Stopping the Cop Cities Countrywide

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With a Report from Lacey, Washington

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Since April 2021, protesters in Atlanta, Georgia have been fighting to defend Weelaunee Forest, where politicians and profiteers are attempting to build a police training compound known as Cop City. This movement has spread around the country, identifying and attacking the roots of state and corporate support for the project; later this month, opponents of Cop City will gather in Tucson, Arizona.

Yet the proposed police militarization center in Atlanta is only one of many. All across the United States, governments are allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to build new police militarization facilities, seeking to expand the repressive capabilities of the police and pouring more money into the pockets of their allies.

The movement to Stop Cop City has given rise to one of the fiercest struggles of the past three years. Does it represent a reproducible strategy by which abolitionists can take a structural approach to stopping the expansion of the police-industrial complex?

In 2022, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced that the National Guard training center at Camp Grayling sought to take over an additional 162,000 acres of publicly-owned land, more than doubling the area under its control. Protesters mobilized against this expansion, many of them inspired by the example of the movement to Stop Cop City. In the end, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was compelled to reject the original request, instead offering 52,000 acres to the military via short-term use permits.

In the Bay Area, politicians intend to build a regional police training facility and gun range in San Pablo. A movement against this facility has already gotten off the ground, informed by the movement against cop city, delaying the construction of the facility.

Rather than giving up on building Cop City, the government of Atlanta has doubled down on repression. Aside from Camp Grayling, it has yet to be seen whether the model demonstrated in Atlanta can succeed elsewhere. Yet even if the movement in Atlanta ultimately fails to prevent the completion of Cop City, it may dissuade politicians elsewhere from embroiling themselves in similar fiascos.

Below, we offer a report from a protest on February 5 that interrupted the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a police militarization facility in Lacey, Washington, and share an incomplete list of other such proposed facilities around the country.

You can find a map showing the locations of all the new cop cities that are in some stage of development here.

As war, ecological and economic crises, and displacement wrack the world, police and their cronies are snatching up as much land and public funds they can. They seek to present themselves as the only possible solution to these crises even as they exacerbate them. It’s a vicious cycle: the more resources they hoard, the more violence they are able to use to impose the disparities and disempowerment that lie at the root of the crises—and they take advantage of the instability this creates to justify grabbing up even more resources. It’s up to us to prevent them from turning the entire world into a lattice of interlocking police states.

A demonstrator in Lacey holds a sign on February 5, 2024.


Anonymous Report from Lacey, Washington

For a while, I’ve been hearing that there are more “cop cities” popping up around the country. This is not surprising, since the facility planned for Atlanta, Georgia is intended to set the standard for policing nationally. That is one of the reasons so many out-of-state police are expected to train there: to set that standard.

Until just yesterday, I hadn’t heard of any similar facilities nearby, and it seems like I wasn’t the only one in the dark. But it turns out that a contract was awarded on December 21, 2023 for the construction of a new police station and training facility in Lacey, Washington. The groundbreaking ceremony was meant to be February 5, 2024.

Despite the immensity of the contract, which originally started at $43.6 million, then ballooned to $61.5 million, there has been surprisingly little reporting on it. The project is slated to go up next to City Hall and the library, where approximately twelve acres of forest will be destroyed in order to build it. According to one of the community members I spoke with, very few people had heard about this project before the groundbreaking ceremony was announced—they had never heard about any opportunity for public comments, and it appears that there was never a public vote.

Once news about the ceremony spread, activists and organizers responded quickly, rallying a couple dozen people to crash the groundbreaking ceremony starting at 1 pm. People showed up with signs reading “Stop Cop City” and “No to Police Training Facilities, Yes to Housing, Healthcare, and Education.”

Demonstrators in Lacey hold signs on February 5, 2024.

The small group shouted down the cops and officials present for the ceremony with chants such as, “LPD [Lacey Police Department], KKK, IDF—You’re all the same,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” By approximately 2 pm, officials started packing up the chairs, microphone, and tent that had been set up for speeches. The chants continued as officials carried the gear out.

At one point, a vehicle that had been loaded attempted to exit via the street that had been blocked off for the ceremony. Protesters clustered together blocking the street. An officer approached the protesters, laying hands on at least one, though it didn’t appear any further escalation occurred. For a moment, it appeared that there might be a confrontation—but when it became clear that the protesters wouldn’t move, the cop walked away, directing the vehicle to exit on the opposite end of the City Hall/library parking lot.

The protesters lingered a little longer, with a handful climbing onto the excavator that had been brought on site for the groundbreaking and fixing a sign reading “Stop Cop City” to the window facing the street. Another protester threw a rock through the excavator’s windshield, ensuring that the equipment wouldn’t be used after protesters dispersed.

Five to ten minutes later, protesters retreated down the street to the intersection. Cops followed closely behind them. When the protesters stopped at the street corner, the police paused and held back, but stayed close to the group until they crossed the street. The demonstrators temporarily blocked traffic, which drew just as much support as ire. But rather than remaining in the street, they withdrew to the opposite corner, where they remained for a short time before dispersing in groups.

In some ways, this project slated for Lacey will be different from the pilot Cop City project in Atlanta. For example, it is not supposed to include a replica of an urban setting in which police can practice “crowd control,” which is to say, the repression of political dissent. However, like Cop City Atlanta, Cop City Lacey represents a doubling down on increasingly militarized policing in response to the George Floyd uprising and to demands that police budgets be reallocated to community projects that actually tend to reduce crime, such as affordable and accessible housing, healthcare, childcare and teen centers, education, and elder care. The government here heard people demanding the defunding of the police who kill so many innocent people in the street annually, who shelter violent abusers and employ training programs known as “Killology,” and in response, they have only awarded more and more money to the police. Since 2020, civilian deaths at the hands of police have continued to climb while local and state governments continue to shift money away from social services into policing.

If the project in Lacey sees the kind of resistance that Cop City Atlanta has provoked, the cost of building the center will continue to grow and the delays will stretch out longer and longer. Activists, organizers, and forest defenders in Atlanta have used a diversity of tactics including occupations in the forest slated for destruction, marches, signature gathering, and attempts to get Cop City on the ballot for a referendum—an effort that has been squashed at every turn in what has been a perfect case study of the banality of evil. Some forest defenders have destroyed equipment and engaged in other forms of vandalism aimed at making construction work impossible, rendering the project almost prohibitively expensive. Recently, protesters have chained themselves to equipment with their arms encased in reinforced pipes, halting construction until police were able to cut through the pipes and chains to arrest them.

It has yet to be seen whether people in Lacey and the surrounding areas will go as hard as folks in Atlanta have. But here’s hoping that this fight is only just beginning.

A sign reading “Stop Cop City” placed on an excavator by demonstrators in Lacey on February 5, 2024.


An Incomplete List of Planned Cop Cities

Here are just a few of the proposed police facilities that gained momentum in the wake of the upheavals of 2020. In this video, the presenter describes having found new police militarization facilities proposed in all but two states in the United States.

California

“The project is set to cost about $43.6 million, a sizable investment for the small city in Contra Costa County with a population of just over 30,000 whose total budget expenditures were about $66 million last year.”

Indiana

“The village, coined ‘Hershville’ after Field Training Officer Kevin Hershberger who came up with the idea, will be made up of small structures designed to represent businesses, homes, streets, and other real-world environments.”

“In 2021, state lawmakers approved $70 million for the renovations—although inflation has pushed costs some 22% above original estimates, requiring state fiscal leaders to approve additional funds. “

Kansas

“A master plan for modernization of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson calls for $200 million to $250 million in renovation and construction… ‘Right now is exactly the time we need to invest in law enforcement,’ said Darin Beck, executive director of the Hutchinson training center. ‘With the controversies in law enforcement in the state and with the national debate that is currently raging, it’s been an interesting time in law enforcement.’”

Kentucky

Nevada

“The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Foundation has launched a $35 million fundraising campaign to build the Reality Based Training Center… The first phase of the Center is a $35 million state-of-the-art Reality Based Training facility [which] will include an indoor, climate and environmentally controlled tactical training village including casino simulations and other incidents to enable our First Responders to train realistically for a variety of events ranging from personal and citizen defense to high profile [sic] scenarios.”

New York

“‘We’re just feet from where I went to the police academy in that very building (nearby). It’s a great location.’ Of the new, nearly 15,000-square-foot complex, Filicetti said the training facility will feature two floors of class space with moveable walls; a reality-based training center with a use-of-force simulator; men’s and women’s locker rooms; and office space.”

North Carolina

“The 2024 budget includes $2 million for the planning and design of a new public safety training facility… the county’s five-year spending plan attributes $35 million to the project… However, not everyone is on board with the training facility. A few citizens protested the plans Monday night before the commissioner meeting and called it a ‘cop city.’”

Ohio

Pennsylvania

Texas

“Currently, the Dallas Police Department says it has secured $20 million in funding for the new facility from the state, and that it has requested [an additional] $50 million.”

“Tarrant County Commissioners voted Tuesday to cut tens of millions of dollars from affordable housing, childcare and public health funding. They reallocated much of that money to build a new law enforcement training center… $11 million to build a new training center for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and $22.5 million for the county’s continuing contract with a private prison in Garza County.”

Washington

“The Lacey City Council voted unanimously on Thursday, December 21 to award a $43.7 million construction contract to Forma Construction of Olympia for a new two-story police station.”

“When we went to the governor with this idea, it was the fastest ‘yes’ I’ve ever had; he was 100% behind it and was so supportive every step of the way,” said Monica Alexander, executive director of the Criminal Justice Training Commission… Now, the old elementary school has new purpose… The long-term plan is to buy a large parcel that can accommodate a permanent training center.”

Wisconsin

“Surprised by a price tag nearly $15 million over budget, the Fitchburg City Council has delayed voting on a proposed stand-alone police services facility… The city’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan anticipated the facility would cost about $35 million. But the plan presented to the city last month by FGM Architects came in at $49.2 million.”