The U.S. Justice Department has reportedly reached an impasse in its negotiations with New York City officials to reach an agreement on how to implement overdue NYPD reforms.

"The earliest test of the new police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, will be his commitment to accountability for abusive officers. We urge him to support an enforceable agreement," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "Any NYPD violation of the agreement stemming from the Justice Department's inquiry should be monitored and ordered corrected by a federal court. This is no time for the ‘gentlemen's agreement' city officials have been promoting." The Justice Department has recently completed its extensive inquiry in the policies and practices of the NYPD that began shortly after the August 1997 assault on Abner Louima.

Despite past promises of reform, the mayor and police commissioner have failed to improve the NYPD's investigative and disciplinary practices and policies. A July Commission to Combat Police Corruption report found that the NYPD's disciplinary system remains seriously flawed. These shortcomings, in effect, allow some of the few officers brought up on charges to escape punishment.

The NYPD has long failed to make overdue reforms, including: giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) a meaningful role in the police department's disciplinary process; requiring transparency of disciplinary actions taken as a result of CCRB-substantiated complaints, instituting increased flexibility for disciplinary sanctions (such as allowing suspensions beyond thirty days); increasing penalties for remaining silent, or providing false information, regarding incidents of brutality or other misconduct; and ending the current disconnect between civil lawsuits alleging police misconduct and the police department's force and complaint tracking systems.

"A consent decree would certainly help deter police abuse in New York," said Allyson Collins, author of Human Rights Watch's 1998 report, Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. "The federal government should insist on nothing less than a consent decree if it really wants to reduce the number of victims of police abuse in New York."

The New York Committee of the Human Rights Watch Council, a group of concerned supporters of Human Rights Watch's work, has met with leading officials in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Justice Department to press for the toughest possible action on police abuse in New York.

"We appreciate the Justice Department's commitment to achieving essential reforms," said Joel Motley, vice-chair of the Human Rights Watch's New York Committee. "Now the federal government has to make sure it follows through on that commitment by requiring a consent decree."