Government targets are causing a breakdown in public trust in the police, the head of the Police Federation has said.
Jan Berry said police were being set too many performance targets, and not being allowed to use their discretion.
She said: "The value of building trust is as valuable as how many speeding tickets you've given out."
But a Home Office spokesman said new targets gave extra prominence to tackling more serious crime.
Officers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are currently involved in a row with ministers about pay.
Ms Berry told the BBC: "We do things these days which we can count, rather than things that can't be counted.
Jan Berry blames the target culture for a breakdown in trust
"There are loads of minor offences which previously could, and should have been, dealt with with some words of advice, like playground disputes between pupils, that are now appearing in the crime statistics."
In an interview in Saturday's Daily Telegraph, Ms Berry said: "There has been a sense of persecuting middle England in order to make the statistics look good."
She said Home Office targets were distorting police priorities and encouraged them to arrest people for minor offences, such as speeding, rather than concentrating on serious crime.
The pay dispute centres around the Home Office's rejection of a recommendation from the Police Arbitration Tribunal to back-date a 2.5% pay award to the beginning of September.
The award will now be back-dated to the beginning of December, meaning that each officer will receive £200 less.
Ms Berry's comments follow previous criticism of the police "target culture" from other law and order experts.
Critics have claimed the police points system for arrests makes too little distinction between the severity of different crimes.
A spokesman from the Home Office said that while government targets might set the strategic direction for the police service, it was up to individual forces to "exercise discretion" in balancing these targets against local priorities.
He added: "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."
Last year the government set a target of 1.25m offences which police needed to "bring to justice" by 2007/08.
This target has been surpassed already. By June, 1.4 m offences were brought to justice.