In 2021, calls to defund the police became familiar across America. New York City cut more than $300 million. Millions were slashed from law enforcement in Baltimore, Maryland, Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a black suspect named George Floyd was killed after a police encounter. But a lot has happened since. There’s been an alarming rise in crime and backlash from residents worried about safety. In Atlanta, Georgia, after briefing considering slashing the police budget, they went in the opposite direction, greenlighting a $90 million public safety training center for policing. But Scott Thuman reports it’s sparked violence by protestors who have dubbed it “Cop City.”
The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Early evening roll call at Atlanta’s Zone 4 police district. A strain on resources means longer shifts and longer waits for people to get help, explains Captain Thomas Atzert.
Thomas Atzert: Our response time is getting bigger and bigger because we just don’t have as many officers to get to those calls as quickly. Back in the day, five, six years ago, when we were fully staffed, well, it was no big deal; you’re talking about call response time was seconds to minutes because everybody was here.
Scott: Now there’s that delay.
Atzert: Now there’s a delay.
Policing in Atlanta, Georgia has never been busier and, in some ways, never more challenged. Just look at the numbers: 170 murders last year, the city’s highest total since 1996. So far this year, the statistics are better, but the city remains desperate for more cops.
Scott: How many officers are you down right now?
Darin Schierbaum: Right now, we’re down about 400 officers.
Darin Schierbaum is chief of the Atlanta Police Department.
Schierbaum: We’re authorized about 2,035, is what we were authorized at, and we need 400 to get back to that point. We’re still the largest law enforcement agency in the state, but we want to be back to that full authorized strength. Cause guess what? In 2026, we’re hosting the World Cup. A significant portion of it right here in our city, and we have to be ready for that.
But the police are working against a background of heightened scrutiny and growing distrust.
Atlanta, like many cities, faced protests and calls to cut back its police department in 2020 after nationwide protests against policing. In Austin, Texas, the council went so far as to cut $150 million from the police budget. New York City officials cut $1 billion in 2020. And in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, the city council called to replace police with a new Department of Public Safety, though voters rejected that move.
In the last two years, rising levels of crime across the nation have silenced most of the calls to defund, as murders went up 30% in 2020.
But attracting new officers has never been harder. When it comes to training, this is what, for years, Atlanta recruits had to work with: an old school-building-turned-police-academy with peeling paint.
Scott: This is not exactly state-of-the-art, what we’re walking through.
Schierbaum: It wasn’t state-of-the-art when we moved in in the 90s either. And it was supposed to be a temporary location in the 90s.
So city and law enforcement leaders came up with a $90 million plan to turn training around, and they’re turning soil to do it, at a site just outside Atlanta.
Former Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson leads Atlanta’s Police Federation, an independent group tied to local businesses that’s helping to push and pay for the center.
Dave Wilkinson: if you really wanna put people out on the street, that is, police officers or firefighters or paramedics, and you want them to be in life-saving roles, you have to make sure they are properly trained. If you want to prevent the events of police brutality that you’ve seen around the country, and you want to make sure Atlanta isn’t the next big story — you make sure you have doubled down on your effort to train your police officers, to make sure they understand the laws of the state of Georgia, they are comfortable in their uniform every day, they know how to de-escalate a situation and ultimately make good decisions.
But what he sees as a state-of-the-art opportunity, others see as a threat.
Protestors dubbed the training center “Cop City,” depicting it as little more than an excuse to further militarize policing in their city.
Kamau Franklin is a community activist and one of the leading voices against the project.
Scott: What are your biggest concerns, what are your biggest problems with what you’ve called Cop City?
Franklin: I think our biggest concern is that Cop City is basically a reaction to the demonstrations and organizings that happened after 2020 when Rayshard Brooks was killed here in Atlanta, Breanna Taylor was killed, George Floyd was killed. This, to us, seems to be a reaction to that. Because some of the things that have been planned for this site include urban warfare training, paramilitary-grade facilities, mock cities for crowd control.
Scott: So you think race is a big part of this?
Franklin: I think race is a huge part of this. Just because it was a black administration, it doesn’t mean we can let them get away with continuing to over-police our communities.
During a series of protests this year, demonstrators broke into the site, destroying construction equipment, setting vehicles on fire, and shooting commercial-grade fireworks at officers.
Scott: Are you okay with some of the more extreme tactics that have been used in opposition to what you call Cop City?
Franklin: I’m okay with the tactics that have been used to stop Cop City because no one talks about the police violence that actually started this situation as violence. It is the police killings which started this situation.
In January, a raid by state police on a “Stop Cop City” encampment led to gunfire. One officer was shot and wounded. One protestor, environmental activist Manuel Teran, was killed by police.
While Atlanta’s mayor and a majority of the council have voted to push the training center plan forward, opponents have gathered thousands of signatures calling for a vote this fall on whether to scrap it.
Scott: Do you think that we’re seeing a pendulum swing from that defund movement that was so loud in many cities across the country, back to a refund movement?
Schierbaum: Here’s what I know. It doesn’t matter how you voted in the last election. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re raised, you want to be protected. You want to go to your parks and not be assaulted. You want to be able to come across any city and not have your property stolen. And you want to feel safe as you go about and enjoy the community that is home for you, and that remains the same. And so, while there may be a period of time where individuals said, what is the role of the police in the country, I think we’re seeing now that people understand that a quality, constitutional, committed police department is good for everybody, and it’s good for the democracy, and it’s good for any community regardless of how they voted in the last election.
Scott: Let’s be clear, you don’t want to get rid of police?
Franklin: No. To be clear, I would get rid of the police.
Scott: You would.
Franklin: Yeah. I think the problem is that we think that the police solve crime. There’s no statistical evidence whatsoever that shows the ways in which police solve crime. The police react to crime, right? The police may make arrests. But the police are not the things that make our communities safe. The safest communities in this country are communities with resources.
Wilkinson thinks the majority of people are now firmly behind the police again.
Wilkinson: Crime, it was very predictable: attack on the police is gonna lead to higher level of crimes. So it was equally as predictable: when crime rates started to go up, the residents of any city come together and say, “We have got to support the police.” So I would argue, or I would say, that right now, we see a higher level of support for police than I’ve seen in all my years of doing this.
Sharyl: A lot of people predicted that, like you say. What are other cities and states doing that are in the same boat?
Scott: Well, there’s been a realization that, as crime rates go up, there is a need for more and better-trained officers, and there are training facilities that are being built or have already opened in places like Texas, Maryland, California, and elsewhere. But recruitment really still is the challenge, and a recent survey found that a lot of departments keep losing officers faster than they can hire them. New York City, for example, still cutting some of the size of its force and citing budget cuts.
Watch video here.
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