The current "obsession" with police numbers and targets is not the best way to tackle crime, a senior police officer has warned.
The public often calls for more bobbies on the beat
Police commanders would prefer to "vary the mix" of the duties of police rather than see a rise in overall officer numbers, said the Metropolitan Police's deputy commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
Policing was high on the agenda at the Labour and Conservative party conferences, with the government heralding record levels of officers, and the Opposition planning to put another 40,000 on the beat.
Sir Ian told a Future of Policing conference commanders wanted their officers to be relieved of paperwork by employing more civilian recruits so more police could be patrolling the streets.
Sir Ian, backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), is also calling for a 5000-strong "border guard force" of customs and excise, immigration and police officers, to combat organised crime and terrorism.
The force would work with a new national agency set up to tackle those types of crime, ACPO has suggested.
Sir Ian said a "completely different type of police service" was needed, and that in 10 years time, the force should be operating at three
levels - national, regional and local.
In the meantime outcomes were more important than police numbers and targets, he said.
obsession by the media and by some political commentators on officer numbers has
been oddly damaging for the police service.
"Odd, because that fixation has led, in recent years, to the Met and other
forces being given many welcome new recruits, but recruits which represent an
ever increasing proportion of the workforce and of its budget - to the point
where police officers are already being used inefficiently to do jobs which
would be better done by other people."
"From our experiments in devolution in London we already know that local
police commanders will wish to reduce the number of police officers and increase
the number of civilians in order to put more police officers on to the
"We're not saying we don't want targets, we are trying to put them into perspective."
"Perhaps the targets should be set as minimum standards."
Sir Ian welcomed Tory plans to decentralise power but warned more work was need to make them practical.
It was "a great idea provided there is a tier of policing above it to deal
with the organised criminals, the murderers and drug traffickers and so on", he
But Sir Ian said: "If localism is to work then the number and the weight of
national targets must lessen."
There would be a challenge in dealing with crime at the level between the
local community and national and international conspiracies, he said.