This article examines police complaints reform in England and Wales during the course of the last 40 years. In that time, four separate complaints systems have been in operation and each has been established at the end of a reform cycle characterised by stages of mounting public concern, appointment of formal inquiries, the legislative process and inception. Recurrent themes identified over the decades have been the trend towards independence, under-representation of complainants' interests, the longevity of the reform process, and changing police priorities. It is argued that marginalisation of complainants' interests in the reform process is the principal reason for the endurance of the police complaints problematic. © 2005 Cambridge University Press.