Eleventh Circuit Court issues order in favor of city in Atlanta police facility referendum case

On Sep. 1, 2023, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Atlanta in a lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of non-Atlanta residents collecting signatures for a referendum petition regarding the construction of a police training facility.

The court issued a stay on a federal district court’s preliminary injunction that provided for signature gatherers who resided outside of Atlanta to gather signatures. The injunction was issued on July 27, 2023, which also reset the signature-gathering period, meaning supporters had until Sep. 23, 2023, to circulate petitions.

The petitioners in support of the referendum, Vote to Stop Cop City, said that they plan to continue with signature gathering, but that the deadline to submit signatures is now unclear.

Mary Hooks, a lead for the Cop City Vote Coalition, said, “We are disappointed that the 11th Circuit has stayed the injunction in this case, particularly given the confusion this ruling creates and lack of clarity provided by the Court. To be clear: this does not mean the petition itself has been invalidated or disqualified, only that the Northern District’s injunction has been stayed pending a full decision. To say otherwise is simply a lie. We remain fully committed to putting Cop City on the ballot to let the people’s voices be heard, and are assessing what this means for our ongoing signature collection and canvass efforts.”

The referendum, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters, would repeal Ordinance 21-O-0367, which was designed to lease a 381-acre public parcel from the South River Forest to the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) to construct the Public Safety Training Campus. Eighty-five of those acres would be used to construct the training center while the remaining 266 acres would be preserved. The training facility would be used by the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

In support of the construction of the police training facility, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said, “Our public safety personnel must have modern, top-quality training programs and facilities throughout their careers, from their first day in the academy to routine training thereafter. This includes the most progressive training curriculum in the nation which includes learning and practicing de-escalation skills, mental health training, anti-bias training, and building relationships with citizens to continue strengthening community trust.”

Opponents of the construction of the facility, who support the referendum, disagree. R. Gary Spencer, Senior Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “Cop City symbolizes the failures of a public safety system that continues to weaponize law enforcement against communities rather than invest in resources that would actually produce the safety and stability they need. The voice of the people has been repeatedly ignored, so it is time for the residents of Atlanta to exercise their political will and decide the fate of Cop City.”

On Sep. 1, a memo was issued by the Office of the Municipal Clerk. The memo said, “No petitions have been submitted or filed with the City of Atlanta Office of the Municipal Clerk as of today, September 1, 2023. If petitions are filed, the Clerk’s office and the team authorized to be engaged by the city council on August 21, 2023, have developed a step-by-step verification process conducted by independent third parties to ensure a process that is fair, inclusive, and transparent.”


State and local police-related ballot measures (2023)