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Police activity at future training complex 'Cop City' site in Atlanta

The site for a future police and fire training center has been the location of protest encampments this year.

ATLANTA — Police activity was ongoing Tuesday at the "Cop City" site in south Atlanta, where there have been protest encampments against the future police and fire training center.

11Alive's Joe Henke is on scene and reported seeing a dozen officers driving down Key Road into the South River Forest where the encampments have been located.

Activists reported officers going into the woods Tuesday morning and cutting down a tree, with dozens more on site. They said it was "directly next to where there is a person up in a tree, potentially threatening the life of the protester."

Interim APD Chief Darin Schierbaum said on Monday encampments had been cleared from the property and work was underway to make sure they aren't rebuilt.

"Any time we encounter someone that is there illegally and they have been prior warned they're going to be arrested," Schierbaum said.

An Atlanta Police spokesperson tells 11Alive officers returning to the site Tuesday was part of routine work by the department. 

UPDATE: Activists said Tuesday afternoon there were no arrests of any members of the tree sit-in group, but that several trees had been cut down near where there are encampments. They posted video of some of the fallen trees on Twitter.

APD referred to a prior statement that said in part the department "supports every citizen's right to a peaceful and lawful protest" and that "we will continue to move forward with the mission of constructing this state-of-the-art public safety training facility that will allow us to teach and train recruits and our tenured police officers and firefighters in an environment that is safe, aesthetically pleasing and technically capable of moving public safety training forward."

RELATED: 'It’s not for our community' | Crowd protests 'Cop City' in Atlanta

Mayor Andre Dickens - who was among the City Council members who voted to approve the training site project last year - said that those occupying the site have "found themselves in handcuffs because they were breaking the law."

"If they keep it up they're gonna be considered repeat offenders and they're gonna be on court watch," he said.

The protesters and Atlanta Police clashed in May, when APD moved to clear out the encampments that have been there since December. Atlanta Police said they made eight arrests and observed at least two Molotov cocktail style incendiaries thrown from the woods toward officers. No officers were injured.

The activists that day decried what they called the "drastic response of police militarizing against people trying to protect our forest and our local community."

The City Council voted 10-4 last year to approve the facility, derisively referred to by community organizers as "Cop City," to be built on the old Prison Farm site in southeast Atlanta.

The proposed $90 million facility was a priority of the law enforcement community, which argued it would help the city recruit and retain officers after the force saw departures and low morale following protest movements calling for policing reforms. 

It has faced robust opposition from a coalition of Atlanta community activists, environmentalists and urbanists, who want to preserve the old Prison Farm site as a public greenspace.

11Alive's Tracey Amick Peer visited the protest encampments - which were first established around December - in February.

A protester, known as Coyote, showed us the treehouses and tents they had been living in to physically block Atlanta from building their new training facility.

"People have built barricades, so there are barricades on certain paths to keep bulldozers from coming in," he said.  

Coyote said the group feels the facility is bad for the ecology, and they want the land to go back to the Muscogee tribe instead. In general, they don't support any police training facility, anywhere.

The plan approved by the City Council involved a ground lease agreement between the city and the Atlanta Police Foundation, which says it will build on 85 acres of the site and preserve the remaining 180 acres as greenspace. 

Officials have highlighted that seven of the eight people arrested in May were from outside the metro Atlanta area, saying they "do not represent our community."  

Local community groups, however, have protested it on multiple occasions as well. Last week 11Alive's La'Tasha Givens was at a protest where Kwame Olufemi of Community Movement said it was "clearly not for us, it’s not for our community and it’s going to be adverse to us and our people."

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