One man was arrested for holding a lift door open on the Tube, Civitas says
Police often choose to tackle "trivial" offences instead of serious crimes to help them meet government targets, a right-wing think tank has said.
The Civitas pamphlet said the trend meant many "law-abiding middle-class" people no longer trusted the service.
The Police Federation agreed officers were "struggling to bring some common sense to a... target-driven culture".
But the Home Office said it did not expect officers to hit targets at the expense of tackling serious offenders.
A spokesman said the government's crime strategy was designed to "free up the police so that they are able to focus on serious crimes and local priorities".
There were now fewer central targets, he said, adding that those announced last October gave more prominence to tackling serious crime.
But Civitas said police forces, and the government, risked alienating the public by concentrating on "easy-to-deal-with offending" like speeding.
The pamphlet, written by journalist Harriet Sergeant, said many officers were expected to complete a certain number of "sanction detections" a month, either by charging, cautioning or fining an offender.
Arresting or fining a normally law-abiding person for a minor offence was a good way of achieving this target and pleasing the Home Office, the booklet said.
It mentioned one case in which a 19-year-old foreign student was arrested, detained for five hours and cautioned for holding open the door of a lift in a London Underground station.
"This story... reveals the bizarre stratagems created by the target culture," said the report.
"In a city where knife crime is exploding and the public are crying out for more police on the streets, three officers are tied up for half the night arresting a young man for holding a lift door open with his foot."
The author said performance-related pay bonuses of between £10,000 and £15,000 a year for commanders who managed frontline officers partly depended on reaching targets for sanction detections.
"In order to meet targets, police are now classifying incidents as crimes that would previously have been dealt with informally, classified differently or ignored," said the pamphlet.
"Many police complained senior officers were pressurising them to make arrests they considered unethical," it added.
One officer was quoted as saying he warned his teenage son to take extra care at the end of the month when police were looking to fill their quota.
Adding that confidence in the police was falling Civitas said: "Complaints against the police have risen, with much of the increase coming from law-abiding, middle-class, middle-aged and retired people who no longer feel that the police are on their side."
"They are slow to respond to calls, even to serious crimes taking place; often slack about follow-up, and unwilling to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour that blights neighbourhoods."
The author recommended the problem be tackled by removing targets and that a new local tax should pay for policing.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said the organisation had long voiced concerns about the issues in the report.
"Police officers are struggling to bring some common sense to the increased demands of a target-driven culture, which is all too often resulting in arrests to boost the statistics we are judged upon, rather than to do what is right for the public.
"This vicious circle of chasing targets then further alienates us from the majority of law-abiding people."
Shadow home secretary David Davis said the report represented a "desperate - but not surprising - indictment of Labour's red tape, target-driven culture".
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said the government's current targets were "ridiculous".
"It is a nonsense that issuing a penalty notice for littering is of the same value as solving a murder. The principle of policing by consent is being seriously undermined."