Most police forces solved a lower proportion of crimes last year than in the previous 12 months, according to Home Office figures.
New performance indicators reveal a drop in detection rates
Three quarters, or 32 of the 43 English and Welsh forces, achieved a lower detection rate in 2002/2003 than in the previous year.
And 33 per cent of all forces also saw a drop in the number of offenders brought to justice.
But the government has blamed a new method of recording crime, introduced at the start of the last financial year, for inflating some of the figures.
The biggest improvements were in the Staffordshire force where 20 per cent more offences were detected and 21 per cent more brought to justice than in the previous year while the biggest drop in solved crimes was 25 per cent in Gwent.
Robbery, burglary and vehicle crime were also up in the majority of forces.
Police minister Hazel Blears said: "There are 1.4 million detected crimes in 2002/2003 and the number of detections is eight per cent higher than in the year before.
Staffordshire - up 20%
Cleveland - up 11%
Avon & Somerset - up 8%
Gwent - down 25%
Dorset - down 21%
Hertfordshire - down 20%
"So the number of detections has gone up but the number of recorded crimes has also gone up - we are detecting more in absolute terms."
She also pointed to a three per cent year-on-year rise in the number of sanctions imposed by the courts as a further reason to claim the overall picture was improving.
She suggested other areas of police work, including violent crime, would be included in future figures.
'Keen to learn'
Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman and chief constable of Essex, David Stevens agreed with the expansion of the performance indicators.
He said they did not take into account non-crime related activity including response to calls, beat patrols and dealing with anti-social behaviour.
He said: ""In addition, although focusing on volume crime the indicators fail to properly identify the increasingly complex and time-consuming work associated with investigating major crime including murder and the threat from terrorism.
"We are keen to learn from any assessment of police performance as
we want to do everything reasonably possible to further improve our service to the public."