The way the police in England and Wales deal with complaints of anti-social behaviour has been strongly criticised by the chief inspector of constabulary.
Denis O'Connor said the failure to properly record and tackle incidents undermined confidence in the police, and called for urgent improvements.
His comments came as the inspectorate published "report cards" on the performance of 43 forces.
Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester received the lowest grades.
Nottinghamshire also recorded the highest rate of violent assaults.
The inspectorate found the way police databases logged information about reports of harassment, vandalism and verbal abuse was "inadequate".
Most police computer systems were unable to identify people who had been victims before or previously categorised as "vulnerable".
Mr O'Connor said: "It is like going back to the doctors' surgery but you see a different doctor every time.
"The more times they suffer, the less confidence people have. There are some heart-rending stories."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme at least half of police forces found it "very difficult" to identify repeat victims of anti-social behaviour.
He said being unable to track a pattern of complaints made it hard to tackle the "chronic illness that causes corrosive harm in communities".
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the case of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her severely disabled daughter after suffering sustained anti-social behaviour in Leicestershire.
Police there were called 33 times in seven years to reports of abuse, vandalism and violence by local youths.
Policing minister David Hanson told the BBC one of the lessons of that "tragic case" was to ensure cases were followed up by police and local councils, then tracked.
He said minimum standards were being introduced "across the board" with a new tracking system that would flag up any earlier complaints.
"They're low level issues very often, but they can be quite serious and they will blight people's lives and we have a duty to take things seriously," he said.
A survey of forces by the Inspectorate found that in 23% of incidents of anti-social behaviour officers did not turn up.
Almost all the victims in these cases said they were dissatisfied with the explanation given.
Where police did attend, confidence in the police increased.
Mr O'Connor said the distinction between crime and anti-social behaviour was "artificial" and urged police to take it more seriously.
He said: "I think this undermines confidence if it is not dealt with seriously, confidence not just in the police but in general.
"It is partly an individual thing but it also has a wider effect on the community, it adds an air of futility in public."
Derrick Campbell, an adviser to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), told the BBC it was time the issue of anti-social behaviour was made a priority.
"When we see individuals or gangs of individuals terrorising neighbourhoods, stealing cars, throwing stones at windows, the police have a duty to respond," he said.
"What we are asking for is that the decision makers within the police force ensure that decent people are allowed to live their lives in peace and safety and the police are there as an instrument to the state to ensure that that happens."
Acpo president, Sir Hugh Orde, said the problem could only be fully solved with better links between organisations.
"The more we engage with partners, the more we have long-term solutions which actually work," he told the Today programme.
In terms of overall performance, the Inspectorate assessed each constabulary in three categories - local crime and policing; protection from serious harm; confidence and satisfaction.
Nottinghamshire was graded "poor" on all three criteria - the worst-performing force.
It also had the highest number of violent assaults per 1,000 residents - 11.6.
Greater Manchester Police - which had the highest rate of vehicle crime - was adjudged to be performing poorly in two areas, and Lincolnshire was ranked poor in the local crime and police section.
A team of inspectors are closely monitoring developments in Nottinghamshire and GMP to ensure improvements are made.
But Peter Fahy, GMP chief constable, said the HMIC's analysis used data that was five months out of date, and the force had seen "significant achievements" in cutting crime since then.
The top six performers were Cleveland, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, Northumbria and Surrey.
Professor Gloria Laycock, director of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at University College London, said communities needed to take some control.
She said her research from Germany found parents, communities, schools, and teachers took more responsibility than in Britain.
"In the UK, 60% of people said they would do nothing, they felt it was the responsibility of the police, the courts and the parents - and I think that's a really big problem," she told Today.
Overall police performance in England and Wales