Public Safety Training Center deserves real public scrutiny – SaportaReport


By John Ruch

As the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center advisory board presents another ridiculous soap opera episode of scrutinizing its own members more than the City’s secret plan, the public should not fall into the trap. For planners, this is neither an accident nor a failure; in a fictional process, it is a success beyond the wildest dreams of distraction as the audience fights for itself rather than questioning the authorities.

No, stay tuned to watch the city leaders who carry on the shameful “Atlanta Way” tradition of letting tycoons and favored special interests do whatever they want – in this case, including such grossly undemocratic acts. only a selection of secret sites and a developer running his own Review Committee. Give this old drama a raucous review because it’s time to force a gut check on a new mayor and city council who claimed to be down with “We, The People” during campaign season. Because the neighborhoods of DeKalb and Southeast Atlanta deserve to be better armed as a local front in the defining battle of this tumultuous time between an angry and disenfranchised public against decaying institutional power.

You can tell a lot about how a city government perceives its residents by how it holds community meetings — especially in this luxurious time of dying media when hardly any reporters scrutinize them. The Neighborhood Planning Unit system is a gem of Atlanta’s civic culture, but at NPU-R the city let a strange power struggle fester for years for reasons that could be anything but an interest in what all residents have to say about public policy and developers. The city has long hid behind the laughable pretense that one of America’s great cities is utterly powerless to clean up its own monthly neighborhood meeting.

The same attitude with worse results transpires with the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) for the training center. The city council created it last year in response to public outrage over the Atlanta Police Private Foundation’s (APF) unfair surprise that DeKalb would get the facility, like it or not. nope. Run by the APF itself, the CSAC has little power and has been further neutralized by being cleansed of potentially troublemaking local environmental groups.

As a fig leaf on an intentional fait accompli, the CSAC was allowed to make some changes to the plan in the spirit of the neighborhood, but it’s certainly not the ersatz zoning review that some DeKalb executives wrongly hoped and the APF told him to his face that a lot of information will be kept secret from him. The group has understandably been through serious transparency issues as city officials down to the deputy chief executive watch with a silence that, while not satisfying enough in fact, is the same in practice.

The icing on the cake, the shameful appearance of the city’s director of transparency, who told the CSAC that he was “doing very well” without mentioning any of its major issues. It was as irresponsible as praising a student driver for how cool the car dad bought him while he was driving on the wrong side of the 285, explainable only by a lack of interest in where he ends up to crash. A city that cares about affected residents would say it is there to help and empower CSAC and its communities. The unspoken but clear message here is: “Keep cheating on yourself and so on everyone else.”

Who is really empowered? The APF, a powerful corporate-funded non-profit organization that for far too long has operated as a black box for the planning and operation of municipal police functions. This includes building one of the largest surveillance camera systems in the country with little public input or oversight, and – as I revealed in 2020 – when cameras turn off without warning, City council members only hear about it secondhand. Nonprofits certainly have their place in supporting public programs, but Atlanta is often willing to abdicate their accountability to an extraordinary degree, raising questions about who is in charge of policies and programs.

Therefore, the corporate-funded training facility, planned in secret by the APF, characterized by the former mayor as a privately-funded giveaway, but rather as an offer Atlanta couldn’t refuse. There’s no doubt that the police and fire academies have had deplorable academies for years – although both are now housed in decent temporary sites – and the APF and the City had long discussed new facilities. But the final plan came with no public input and little evidence of serious alternative studies and was presented to city council during a crime spike that gave it maximum political moment and minimum official scrutiny, all in a hurry. a non-profit organization exempt from open registration laws. It’s a case study of how not to make government decisions, but here we are.

New mayor Andre Dickens is a very smart, analytical guy who wants more democratic government, but he obviously can’t argue with the APF and APD on that front – not with the city of Buckhead movement, which is focused on the crime, which is still simmering. So his administration joins the city council in following the worst trend in modern politics: supporting a proposal not in spite of its informational flaws and illegitimate process, but specifically because of it – the sheer absurdity that makes support a pure demonstration of loyalty to the real power. It’s positively Trumpian.

The rest of us are not so paralyzed in discerning the degree of support for law and order from the current reality of power and control. I’m sure if I climbed into a makeshift treehouse at the old Prison Farm, I could find an anarchist protester to tell me it’s still the same things, but why bother when the APF, l APD and the City say it very clearly?

The law? The APF violated a state law – the Georgia Open Meetings Act – with the very first CSAC meeting. It’s as much of a crime as any protester’s intruding rap, and obviously more detrimental to the public good. The latest CSAC meeting included the acting police chief intoning about upholding the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters shortly before the committee resumed work probable illegal attempts to punish one of its own members for peacefully demonstrating against the planwithout a glance from him or any other conspicuous leader.

The law of this process is the law of the jungle: the end justifies the means. These means are often arrogant and manipulative, going so far as to tell the committee that public documents are confidential.

The APF and APD have legitimate security concerns which are presented under the logic of secrecy. Some protesters have indeed entered and vandalized various offices – including those of the APF – and the site of the facility, but this only highlights many unanswered, albeit obvious, planning questions.

Why is a protest magnet built in a neighborhood? Why is a secure facility built in a forest? If officials are having trouble securing a construction site, what intrusive steps will they take to secure the actual facility? How many other details will be kept secret? How many public promises will be broken in the name of security, as the APF has already warned can arrive with a perimeter fence?

And these are not just questions for the training center site. The APF and the APD have previously stated that they will relocate an existing explosives disposal facility from the site to another place to be determined, on which they will not answer questions. Another surprise arrives in another neighborhood. Maybe yours.

None of these questions are asked in the fictional process. Instead, the CSAC increasingly has a Stockholm syndrome vibe and, while still talking about doing substantial work on green spaces and education programs, also reflects the APF’s interest in “control the narrative”.

The public should control everything through normal government mechanisms to do so. The options are many, such as terminating the APF’s lease on City-owned property and subjecting the training center’s needs and site location assessments to the normal consideration of City Council and administration. At the very least, nothing prevents the City from voluntarily submitting to some version of DeKalb’s zoning review process or requiring the APF to do so.

It requires changing a general attitude and method of doing business that has rotted the core of Atlanta government for decades. But change can happen. Reform of the NPU is finally underway, thanks to new city council members, a new acting planning commissioner, and recommendations from a nonprofit. With the training center, official discontent grows.

Be that as it may, these great institutions do not so easily get rid of today’s populist movements. Dickens is right to worry that, despite the political suicide of its leaders, Buckhead’s town agitators aren’t going away. ACAB anarchists and Earth First! the descendants certainly do not abandon the single cause of fighting against the training center. Heck, the right and left wings of opposition to tree cutting haven’t even united yet. And these are just the radical edges of a general public dissatisfaction with the decades-long parade of murky deals, corruption scandals and lackluster results.

Atlanta is no longer a city where the public sits quietly at a children’s table while the Good Ole Boys bully each of the mighty luncheons to decide what’s best. Anyone who does not yet understand this is risking a lifetime of political heartburn at the ballot box and on the streets.

Here and now, it begs a simple question: Does Atlanta provide public security facilities or private security facilities? It’s not too late to create a process to not only ask but also to demand the right answer.


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