Policing Reform: A Study of the Reform Process and Police Institution in Toronto


166 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-919584-58-6




Reviewed by P.F. McKenna

P.F. McKenna was librarian at the Police Academy, Brampton, Ontario.


Maeve McMahon, a doctoral candidate in sociology and Junior Fellow at the Centre of Criminology, and Richard Ericson, a Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Toronto, have produced a study of failure. Their book examines the origins of a radical reform organization known as the Citizens’ Independent Review of Police Activities (CIRPA) and chronicles its gradual departure from its founding principles and eventual absorption into the structure of state reform. CIRPA’s genesis can basically be found in reaction to three events. The first was the shooting of Albert Johnson on August 26, 1979, by members of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force. The second was the raid on gay bathhouses in Toronto by the same police force on February 5, 1981. The final significant stimulus affecting the creation of CIRPA was the introduction of Bill 68 into the Ontario legislature in 1981. Bill 68 was designed to create the Office of the Public Complaints Commissioner, an independent body charged with the duty of receiving and processing citizen complaints against members of the Toronto Police Force.

The authors begin with a general overview of the reform process as it relates to police and discuss the pressures brought to bear on “outsider” reform groups by reforming elements within government institutions. Tremendous pressure is exerted by the “insider” (i.e., institutional) groups to coopt these various “outsider” groups. The aim of the present work is to detail the process of cooperation experienced by one such “outsider” group — CIRPA. In order to gather research for this study, the authors employed “a relatively open-ended approach both theoretically and methodologically.” More specifically, the authors availed themselves of reports that examined and made recommendations on aspects of policing within Toronto. They acquired documents produced by CIRPA and conducted extensive interviews with members of CIRPA as well as attending meetings held by the organization.

The authors have done a fairly thorough job of presenting the rise and fall of CIRPA, and they provide the reader with some theoretical insight into this kind of organizational devolution. However, the work has a certain prematurity to it, which mitigates its success as a piece of criminology research. The text reads like an incomplete doctoral dissertation. One may suppose that Dr. Ericson’s role is primarily one of adviser and that the intellectual content originates with Maeve McMahon. If this is the case, it seems odd that Ms. McMahon has not postponed publication until her research has been fully completed. Indeed, she concludes with an accurate appraisal of what “a more complete study” would have accomplished. The scholarly community can wait for, and would benefit more substantially from, a comprehensive analysis. Certainly, by postponing her eagerness to publish, Ms. McMahon could have included a valuable examination of the PCC, which released its second annual report in June 1984 and will conclude its initial three-year pilot project in December 1984. Finally, the substantial number of typographical errors within this potentially valuable piece of research may be symbolic of the work’s larger shortcomings.


McMahon, Maeve W., and Richard V. Ericson, “Policing Reform: A Study of the Reform Process and Police Institution in Toronto,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed January 23, 2022, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37706.