Until the middle of the twentieth century, the public had very little interest in the internal operation of police departments. Neither were they greatly concerned with the type of limits placed on the power of the police as outlined in the Criminal Code and various Police Acts and regulations. These limits, defining the parameters within which the police could operate in order to enforce the law, were accepted as sufficient at the time (Canadian Encyclopedia 1851-1852). In the years following World War II, however, traditional sanctions to control police powers were found to be inadequate and a number of new external mechanisms were proposed.

The increasing popular idea of civilian review of police operations was an extension of the nineteenth century concept of public policing but with an added dimension. The major difference was that the work of the police, rather than the public presuming they were acting in the interest of citizens, would be scrutinized more carefully and monitored by agencies led by citizens. The police would be held accountable based on the expectations and standards of the community. This issue of accountability of the police to the public is actually one aspect of a larger issue, namely, the accountability of elected representatives to their constituents. It is about whether citizens in their community can exercise power and influence public policy (Ian Jeffrey Ross 235).

Citizens can potentially influence the internal operations of police forces by advocating for change in a number of areas that in the past were left to the exclusive discretion of the police. They can demand improvement in effective screening and recruitment of new personnel, types and levels of training and ongoing education, clearer policy and procedural directives, more appropriate disciplinary codes, and the maintenance of a healthy police sub-culture (Ian Jeffrey Ross 237-238).

Citizens can also advocate for changes in the regulatory law governing the use of force by police. These are outlined for all of Canada in sections 25 to 28 of the Criminal Code. Sub-section 1 of section 25 allows officers to use as much force as necessary to effect an arrest. Sub-sections 3 and 4 permit an officer to use lethal force to apprehend a fleeing suspect when other procedures have failed. Sections 26 to 28 describe police liability when excessive force is used, as well as several other matters. Provincial police legislation and their regulations often elaborate further on the use of force.

Other structures in society can contribute to the process of ensuring that the police comply with standards established by the community (Stone and Ward; Ian Jeffrey Ross 235-241; Grant):

  • The media can publicize incidents of police misconduct as was done in Los Angeles in the 1991 Rodney King case, creating pressure to introduce change and reform;
  • Community-based organizations with interests in public safety, civil and human rights, and legal representation can conduct research on policing and law enforcement as well as adopting a strong advocacy role;
  • Organizations which have independent experts and scholars can collect, analyze and disseminate crime statistics, and highlight problems and issues that need the attention of senior police officers; and
  • The courts have the ability to comment on police behaviour through their decisions.