The Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, Sir Denis O'Connor, says police have "retreated from the streets" since the 1970s, and tackling anti-social behaviour is too often not seen as "real police work".
In a report, Sir Denis warns against reducing the amount of time police spend combating rowdy behaviour - under the pressure of spending cuts.
"Every time there's cutbacks the first thing that's gone has been the front end on the streets," he told John Humphrys.
This, he argued, would be a "big error" - the availability of police officers to respond to emergency calls was already low, and people's faith in the force was suffering.
"It's not just about presence, it's the presence of control," he said. "We need to reclaim some neighbourhoods".
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