Frontline police officers are calling for an end to the "target-driven culture" they say is forcing them to make arrests for petty offences.
The Police Federation says 'target culture' stops officers doing their job
The Police Federation of England and Wales says government targets lead to "ludicrous" decisions such as arresting a child for throwing a cucumber slice.
Detectives are being diverted away from serious cases, it also warns.
The Home Office said it was discussing future targets to give more prominence to serious crime.
The federation is due to discuss the issue at its annual conference in Blackpool.
Delegates will debate whether judging officers purely on numbers of arrests, cautions or on-the-spot fines is the best way to assess success.
The federation, which represents 130,000 rank-and-file officers, has published a dossier of "ludicrous" cases it claims are the result of Home Office targets.
The cases include:
A man from Cheshire who was cautioned for being "found in possession of an egg with intent to throw"
A child in Kent who was arrested after removing a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and throwing it at another youngster
A West Midlands woman arrested on her wedding day for criminal damage after her foot slipped on her accelerator pedal and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier
A child from Kent who was arrested for throwing cream buns at a bus
A 70-year-old Cheshire pensioner who was arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour's conifer trees
An officer in the West Midlands who was told to caution a man for throwing a glass of water over his girlfriend
Two children from Manchester who were arrested for being in possession of a plastic toy pistol
A spokesman for the federation said such cases were a result of officers being "so busy chasing targets and securing ticks in boxes".
As a result, he said, officers were distancing themselves from "middle England".
The list of compiled cases showed incidents where officers had been "under such pressure to deliver it has resulted in an arrest or caution when even the officer themselves thinks it is ludicrous", he said.
"Understandably, when the public hears about this they ask 'What the hell is going on?'."
Federation chairman Jan Berry said some officers were considering leaving the service over the issue because it was "not the job they signed up to do".
She added: "Just talking to people and giving them a few words of advice cannot be counted as easily as a ticket can be.
"But sometimes it is just as effective as taking someone to court."
Mrs Berry added that the issue would be raised with Home Secretary John Reid later in the week when he attends the conference.
The Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, John Denham, told the BBC questions need to be directed at senior figures in the police service.
"Over the last few years we've seen a massive investment in police resources and yet we haven't seen the scale of increases in cases brought to court for things like burglary and car thieves, and robbers and child pornographers that we would want," he said.
"Clearly the government is right to say on behalf of taxpayers - we want to see value for money for that investment.
"Now, if between that message and Jan Berry's members it is being distorted into crude number chasing by senior police officers, that's where we've got to tackle the problem."
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "Bringing criminals to justice is a core job for the police, but officers should not pursue detection numbers for numbers' sake if that means chasing minor misdemeanours at the expense of serious offenders.
"This amounts to hitting the target, but missing the point.
"We are currently discussing future targets in this area so that both our crime reduction and detections targets give much more prominence to more serious crime, particularly the most serious violent crime."
Paul Cavadino, Chief Executive of Nacro, the crime reduction charity, said: "Law enforcement agencies should not be judged by how many offenders they arrest but on how much they reduce crime."
Shadow home secretary David Davis said Whitehall targets were "stopping the police from doing what the public want them to do".
He added: "Conservatives would free the police from Labour's red tape so they can be deployed onto our streets - where the public want them."