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The feds grade progress at SPD; plus, a twist in Bergdahl's case

click to enlarge Bowe Bergdahl is from Hailey, Idaho.
  • Bowe Bergdahl is from Hailey, Idaho.

POLICE REPORT CARD

Despite the recent scandal and cover-up within the SPOKANE POLICE DEPARTMENT, a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice says SPD is making "significant progress" on most of its 42 recommendations to improve the agency's uses of force and its relationship with the community.

The Justice Department handed Spokane a list of recommendations after an 11-month review of the department's community relations, civilian oversight and use-of-force policies, investigations and training. As of June, when the data for the report was collected, five of those recommendations have been fully completed and 27 more are "in progress," the DOJ says. No progress has been made on 10 of the recommendations; however, a majority of those either require a sitting ombudsman or need to be worked out during labor contract talks.

One recommendation, for example, was to allow the administrative review panelists — the internal group that reviews uses of force — to start considering the officer's decision-making and tactics. Currently, panelists only decide if an officer violated policy. A change like this, which could result in discipline, needs to be negotiated with the police unions first.

As far as the completed recommendations: SPD has launched a citizens' academy, which it intends to continue on an annual basis, and use-of-force reports are now published online. SPD also refined the process for identifying officers with a high frequency of problems, the report found. The next installment from the Justice Department will be released in the fall of 2016. (MITCH RYALS)

NOT YET FREE

Back in October, BOWE BERGDAHL got the first good news he's had in a very long time.

The Hailey, Idaho, native — freed from five years of Taliban captivity after a May 2014 prisoner swap — learned that the man in charge of his preliminary hearing, Lt. Col. Mark Visger, had recommended that Bergdahl not face jail time or a punitive discharge. Bergdahl had been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

This week, his fortune changed. Gen. Robert Abrams, head of Army Forces Command, ordered that Bergdahl face a general court-martial, instead of a milder "special court-martial." A general court-martial is a very serious thing: Bergdahl could spend five years in prison the desertion charge, and the rest of his life behind bars because of misbehavior before the enemy.

The Army's investigator had concluded that sending him to prison would be "inappropriate," and said his investigation found that media claims that the search for Bergdahl resulted in deaths were inaccurate.

"I think he recognizes he was young and naïve and inexperienced," said Kenneth Dahl, deputy commanding general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Dahl suggested that Bergdahl had left to report perceived problems in his unit.

But Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl's attorney, lamented that "the convening authority did not follow the advice of the preliminary hearing officer who heard the witnesses."

The court-martial again raises the possibility that five Taliban prisoners had been released so a deserter could be freed from captivity in Afghanistan, only to be sent to captivity in America. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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