By examining developments in England and Wales this article considers police reform in the context of the tension between operational independence and citizen oversight. The article assesses the nexus between regulation and accountability in order to shed light on how a bifurcated accountability paradigm has protected police autonomy. Particular significance is attached to the cold-blooded police shooting of an innocent man as a critical moment in the recent history of police governance. The lesson-learning strategy of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, created under the Police Reform Act 2002, is singled out as an important driver of police reform. Although police governance reform in England and Wales is context specific, it is held that appreciation of the regulation accountability nexus and complaints as lesson-learning opportunities are of significance in other jurisdictions and sectors. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.