Tony Blair denied community safety officers were police on the cheap as he highlighted Labour's £340m neighbourhood policing plans.
Policing is set to be Labour's campaign focus on Wednesday
Labour are promising dedicated policing teams in every neighbourhood in England and Wales, including 24,000 community support officers (CSOs).
The Tories said CSOs lacked the power and training of "real police". The Lib Dems want 10,000 more police.
Mr Blair and Home Secretary Charles Clarke joined beat officers in London.
Speaking during the visit to Clapham, Mr Blair insisted CSOs were not replacing fully-trained officers.
"What we are talking about is bringing back community policing for today's world. People loved CSOs because they were a uniformed presence on the streets," he said.
"We hope to roll this out right across London, across the country. CSOs are, I think, a great support, in the same way teachers have teaching assistants and so on."
Labour wants its new CSOs in place by 2007/8 and says local wardens and special constables will also play a role in the neighbourhood teams.
Individual police forces will be left to decide how large or small each neighbourhood will be.
The Home Office said the definition would vary for citizens living in inner cities compared to rural areas.
"For the former, their neighbourhood could be a few streets or the estate where they live, for the person in the country it could be their village, a group of villages or their parish," a ministry booklet said.
"We think that local communities, police forces, police authorities and partners should decide what neighbourhoods mean, rather than being told by the government."
Ministers say local people will know their local officers and how to contact them.
Mr Clarke said: "The government and the police service are absolutely committed to delivering effective neighbourhood policing.
"We have put the resources in place - we have record numbers of police officers supported by community support officers and we are cutting paperwork to get officers back on the streets where they belong."
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said under Labour gun crime had doubled and that last year there were one million violent crimes "for the first time ever".
"Only a Conservative government will make our streets safer by creating 40,000 more real police officers."
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said the government's proposals built on "some only local projects" but he cautioned they only went so far.
"We would fund 10,000 extra over and above the government's commitment by scrapping the unnecessary and illiberal identity cards scheme."
He added it was "shocking" the government admitted that 12,000 officers were "tied up with backroom bureaucracy".
"We would cut that red tape and enable police to stay on patrol for longer by using the latest technology."