Police officers in England and Wales are bogged down in red tape and afraid to use their own judgement, the chief inspector of constabulary has said.
The interim report says police spend too long on paperwork
In an interim report, Sir Ronnie Flanagan said forces would "over-record and under-deliver" for fear of missing something or being criticised.
And he said "excess bureaucracy" must be cut to free up police time.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said changes were needed to make police "more effective" at fighting crime.
She told BBC News that Sir Ronnie had come forward with some "very clear and practical steps".
"There's lots of positive things that have happened in the last few years, more police officers, community support officers and real progress in cutting crime," she said.
"But I'm determined that those police officers who come into the service to make a difference, we are constantly vigilant about making sure they can concentrate on frontline policing."
Sir Ronnie did praise the strategy of Neighbourhood Policing in England and Wales which he said was delivering results.
But he said local police must work more closely with councils, schools and other bodies to really make a difference.
In the interim report, Sir Ronnie sets out his ideas for a "cultural change" within the police.
"A more risk-averse society has led to a more risk-averse police service, which will at times over-record and under-deliver for fear of missing something or being vulnerable to criticism," he says.
Among his recommendations are:
- A drive by police chiefs to encourage officers and staff to "rediscover their discretion to exercise professional judgement"
- The introduction of voluntary police community support officers to supplement neighbourhood teams
- The creation of standardised forms for recording crimes to minimise excess bureaucracy
- A nationwide consensus on "what is and isn't important" for police to record in an effort to cut paperwork.
Sir Ronnie added: "We risk diverting officers' priorities to recording crimes rather than getting out on the streets, solving them and preventing them."
The interim report also suggested that greater use should be made of technology to free up police time.
The home secretary said: "Sir Ronnie has identified several measures through which we can cut bureaucracy.
"Just from his proposal on case file management, we could save 400,000 hours of police time - that is the equivalent of 200 officers."
Shadow police minister David Ruffley said there had been too many broken promises from the government.
"We've heard from ministers in the last year that 9,000 forms have been cut," he said. "The police don't believe that and ministers can't tell us which forms have been cut.
"Our police are form writers now, not crime fighters. Less than a fifth of their time is spent on the beat - and that's got to change."
Chairman of the Police Federation Jan Berry said it agreed with many of Sir Ronnie's recommendations, but that many had been made before.
"In 2002 a predecessor of Sir Ronnie's chaired a bureaucracy task force that made many similar proposals.
"Regrettably, without the cash and political will needed, many of these recommendations will fail to become a reality."
Sir Ronnie was asked to conduct his independent review in his capacity as the home secretary's senior professional adviser on policing.