Is California’s ‘Cop Campus’ the Next Cop City Fight?

Megan Varner/Reuters
Megan Varner/Reuters

The city of San Pablo, California, has approximately 30,000 residents and a city budget of $66.4 million. The city’s new proposed police training center is expected to cost $43.6 million.

On Saturday, protesters plan to march in opposition to the San Pablo Police Department Headquarters and Regional Training Center. The project, dubbed “Cop Campus” by critics, is a proposed 42,000 square-foot development, complete with a virtual reality simulator and 20-lane gun range. Though city officials lauded the development as “the largest public works project the city has undertaken in its history,” opponents began mobilizing against the facility this summer, the Bay City News Foundation first reported.

That fledgling “Stop Cop Campus” movement comes alongside a “Stop Cop City” movement in Georgia, where a proposed $90-million police training facility has attracted large protests.

San Pablo already has a relatively new police training center. In addition to police headquarters, the city opened a police training facility in 2019. That facility serves San Pablo’s 59 police officers and 31 civilian employees, as well as officers from other cities, the Bay City News Foundation reported.

But by October 2021, the city was already looking for its next training center. That month, the city announced plans to build a new facility that would include a shooting range, simulator rooms, a “drone technology center,” and fitness area. The estimated cost, at the time, was “$30 to $35 million (depending on bid climate).”

Since then, the projected budget has ballooned, with the city funneling in new reserve cash after funding shortfalls. In January, the city gave the project a $5.4 million cash infusion to make up for one such funding gap, followed by another $5 million in February.

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The city is funding the rest of the project with “lease payments on city owned assets,” according to Bay City and $4.4 million from the COVID-era American Rescue Act.

City officials have noted the potential to train police from outside San Pablo at the new facility, possibly attracting business to other San Pablo establishments.

“Once constructed, the City hopes to maximize the versatility of this new law enforcement facility to serve the residents of San Pablo and to provide a regional training center for other local law enforcement agencies,” a city bulletin reads. “Such engagement with other agencies is expected to yield local economic spillover to local businesses and to contribute to the City’s economic tax base for years to come.”

But the price tag has drawn criticism from area activists, who have questioned whether the money might be better spent elsewhere. “What would you like $42M of tax payer money go to??” wrote one Bay Area Instagram account, which uploaded footage from a Stop Cop Campus protest last month. “Maybe school improvements, housing or programs?”

Some of those activists took their movement offline last month with a protest at the facility’s planned groundbreaking on Aug. 10. The city called off the groundbreaking ceremony due to “operational concerns and logistics,” and might never officially reschedule it, the Bay City News Foundation reported.

A follow-up protest is scheduled for Saturday.

Stop Cop Campus activists have tied their cause to the ongoing Stop Cop City protests in Atlanta, Georgia, where a proposed police training facility in a city forest has drawn criticism for its cost, its potential environmental impact, and its implications for over-policing in Atlanta.

“The fight against Cop Campus is one of the several movements spurred by the struggle to stop building ‘Cop City,’ a proposed 85-acre, $90,000,000 police training compound, including a large film soundstage for Blackhall Studios, in the Weelaunee Forest of Atlanta, Georgia that has been ongoing since activists first learned about the projects in April 2021,” activists with the Stop Cop Campus movement wrote in a statement ahead of their August protest.

“The most powerful way activists can support the movement to end police expansion in Atlanta is to stop it here in San Pablo.”

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