Radicals vs. Atlanta: The Left Focuses Violent Outrage at Police Deescalation Training Center
Billionaire foundations and traveling activists fuel conspiracy theories and violence against an academy designed to improve police and firefighting.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire after an Atlanta police vehicle was set on fire during a "Stop cop city" protest in Atlanta, Georgia, United States on January 21, 2023. Photo by Benjamin Hendren/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image.
Throughout the United States, it takes three times as many hours of training to become a nail technician, a barber, or a plumber as it does to become a police officer.
Finland, Australia, Denmark, and Germany – countries with far less crime and a fraction of American gun violence – spend dramatically more to prepare officers before sending them off into the streets. Finland, for instance, provides police cadets with 5,500 hours of training, nearly 14 times the minimum 408 training hours required by the state police board in Georgia.
Highly trained law enforcement officers, studies consistently show, are better at handling mental health emergencies and defusing violent confrontations, are less likely to engage in racial bias, and are more equipped to build community bonds necessary for good police work.
Poorly trained officers, in contrast, are more likely to use force and rely on their firearms, a tendency that has led to lost lives and scandals. Georgia’s police officers are among the least trained in the country.
The evidence suggests a focus on police training can also mend deep wounds from years of officer misconduct. Newark, N.J., under a court order because of rampant police abuses, has decided to adopt yearly seminars for police officers, including training that emphasizes mental health programs for traumatized police officers. Although the reforms cost over $7.5 million, they began paying dividends almost immediately. In 2020, Newark had zero police shootings. Crime rates that year went down.
Municipalities have recently turned to the Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics standard of police training. The ICAT approach, focused on communication tools to calm volatile situations, is credited with lowering use-of-force incidents by nearly one-third, reducing injuries to officers and civilians. As part of a reform agenda, city leaders in Atlanta announced a police academy focused on adopting the most modern de-escalation tactics, including the ICAT method.
Despite the clear need for more and better police training, opposition to the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center – derisively dubbed “Cop City” – is now among the most popular protest causes of self-styled radicals. Viral social media posts have claimed that the academy is focused on advancing “white supremacy” and that it is designed for “militarization” tactics. Some claim, ominously, that Israeli special forces will be brought to the training center to teach the Atlanta Police Department to terrorize minority groups.
The conspiratorial allegations have frustrated local officials, who say that planning meetings, which have been open to the public, made it clear that the academy is doing nothing of the sort. Instead, it will feature modern facilities to train police, firefighters, and other emergency responders in professional best practices.
Protest organizers carefully ignore any of the publicly debated training curriculum and have instead made the center into a target for an abstract smorgasbord of left-wing causes. In one recent podcast from a local organizer and several national left-wing influencers, activists called the “Cop City” protest an attempt to “link intensive policing, undemocratic land use processes with the issue of climate change,” and “a global struggle against fascism” to “disrupt the machinery of capitalism.”
Such rhetoric has made meaningful discussion nearly impossible. In June, as the Atlanta city council debated the future of the training center, demonstrators from as far as Los Angeles mobbed the hearing. Outside the government chamber, protesters chanted, “If you build it, we will burn it.”
The slogans were far from an idle threat. Demonstrators have thrown fireworks and incendiary devices at law enforcement and set fires at the proposed police academy site in the forest.
"Atlanta has an opportunity to create the prototype of what real training should look like, a model for the rest of the country," said Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. But he added that the role of anarchists has prevented substantive debate about the proposed center.
"Antifa, they don't want any kind of training, they don’t want any police. No policing is no answer. We got to have police and you got to have trained police," said McDonald.
McDonald runs a community center designed to reduce gun violence and serves as a board member of People for the American Way. He’s one of many local progressives frustrated by the escalating violence and opposition to the training center.
"Training is everything. You don't go to the doctor unless the doctor is trained," said McDonald, who has advised police reform efforts around the country.
But such arguments are lost on radicals singularly dedicated to destroying anything with “police” in the name.
Leftists from around the world have come to Atlanta to protest the training center. During violent confrontations with law enforcement earlier this year, only two of the 23 arrested at the site were from Georgia. The rest were from as far as Canada and France. Last year, at another protest over the proposed Atlanta police academy, every single arrested demonstrator was from outside the state. Construction crews have been attacked and local legislators followed to their homes in a bid to intimidate them.