Public Security Training Center will have secret deadlines, possible closure due to illegal protests – SaportaReport

By John Ruch

Atlanta public safety training center Planners will keep construction timelines secret and may surround the future facility with unwanted fencing in response to law-breaking protesters who are currently under investigation by the FBI and GBI, officials said.

The controversial facility on city-owned land on Key Road in DeKalb County has been the target of protests — mostly peaceful but some involving acts like sabotage and vandalism — for more than a year. The protests were rarely mentioned in passing during the first six months of the planning review by the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC). That changed at the April 26 CSAC meeting, where some members seemed surprised to learn that 12 arrests had been made on the spot and that protests could affect the content and transparency of the plan.

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, who is also a CSAC member, said the arrests at the scene were linked to trespassing and vandalism, but police were concerned protesters were targeting other people working on the project in other places. He said the FBI and GBI accepted a request for assistance last week from Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant. Schierbaum said “we look forward to working with these agencies to ensure this is a safe project taking place here and to address any foul play that may occur at the site to try to ‘prevent the continuation of the project’.

“We are not aware of any [criminal] targeted efforts on this body,” he added of CSAC.

Marshall Freeman, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), the nonprofit leading the planning, said the exact timelines for a summer inauguration and activities such as tree clearing would be kept secret due to fear of criminal manifestations. Such details have been scarce anyway, and the APF has at times not responded to requests for updates, possibly due to protesters’ concerns.

“I repeat, to be 100% frank so that this committee is aware, in the event that we have a solid schedule for the work that will take place on the site, it will not be released to this group, yet once, for the protection of the people actually doing the work on site,” Freeman told CSAC during his virtual meeting. “Again, it’s an unfortunate thing because when we talk about transparency, from day one I try to give everyone as much information as possible, but I have…the responsibility to protect the people who are actually doing the work because these calls continue to be public.

As a gesture to community relations, the facility has been designed as largely unfenced, with partial public access to its grounds and an open border with an adjacent area that will presumably become a sort of public park. But planners have raised the specter of a perimeter fence, an idea that Freeman says grew out of FBI and GBI discussions. Freeman said, “I don’t think there’s a current desire or urge to close it,” but indicated it was on the table.

Bob Hughes of consultancy HGOR, which is helping APF design the facility, said no closing decision had been made. “We are many [working] about what’s going to come down screaming if we have to go in that direction,” he said, saying a perimeter fence would be “antithetical” to the intention of “symbolically creating this idea of ​​police and community living in a similar environment”.

Schierbaum also warned against such changes in a plan that he said presents “a distinct difference and improvement” thanks to CSAC’s input. He said the plan could be ‘delayed or deferred due to the actions of very few’ and said that is why the police department is working to ‘respond [criminal protests] very quickly so that it does not reach that area.

There is no doubt that some protests broke the law. Last year, demonstrators invaded and vandalized the halls of the APF and its construction consultant. Some protesters, apparently loosely affiliated with a decentralized movement, have camped at the site in an effort to prevent the felling of trees and oppose increased police spending for what they mockingly call “Cop City,” according to their social media posts. On the site on January 18, APF spokesman Rob Baskin had previously said SaportaReport, “Construction machinery windows were smashed and the electrical system of a bulldozer-type machine was destroyed. Protesters also threw stones at a worker at the site, who fled to escape danger. »

But many protests were peaceful, and the plan sparked widespread public controversy over issues such as the secrecy of its development and the choice of site, while also garnering broad public and political support. Last year, the Atlanta City Council approved the facility, but also created CSAC specifically to address the lack of public participation. Some CSAC members are skeptical of the overall concept and at least one has actively protested through legal means such as a YouTube video conference.

Raising fears about the impacts of illegal protests at the April 26 meeting, officials at times muddled them with the idea of ​​any kind of opposition, and Freeman even hinted that some CSAC members might defend protests. violent. Freeman said council meetings are the place for peaceful protests and now is the time to plan. He said dissent through vandalism or intimidation “is unacceptable, and I hope the members of this committee, again, will also take the same position when we speak to the community about their position regarding the installation.”

Either way, the CSAC is limited by council legislation to actively planning the facility, not debating its existence. CSAC President Alison Clark underscored that, saying she hopes the group does not become the focus of protests because it is “not the right channel to go down”.

Co-Chair Sharon Williams said she was surprised at the number of arrests on the site for what she called ‘ecoterrorism’ and thanked Freeman for his ‘transparency’ explaining why he couldn’t be transparent about timelines of construction.

Schierbaum said he would notify CSAC of any new arrests or special law enforcement activities at the site.

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