Theresa May has insisted she is providing police with the resources and powers they need, after she was confronted by a serving officer on live TV about "devastating" cuts during her time as home secretary.
But the Prime Minister did not provide an answer to a request from the officer, whose name was given as Martin, for a specific number of additional officers which she would recruit if re-elected in the June 8 general election.
Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were being questioned separately by studio audiences and interviewed by Jeremy Paxman in a Sky News/Channel 4 "Battle for Number 10" broadcast, after the Prime Minister refused to go head-to-head with other party leaders in a debate.
In response to the policeman's question, Mrs May acknowledged that numbers of police in England and Wales had fallen by around 20,000.
But she said: "What we had to do when we came into government in 2010 was to ensure that we were living within our means and that was very important because of the economic situation we had inherited.
"It's not just about the numbers of police - people often focus on the numbers of police. It's actually about what the police are able to do and how they are being deployed on our streets.
"In counter-terrorism policing we have protected those budgets and we are currently protecting police budgets.
"But crime is changing and the sort of job that the police officers need to do is changing. That's why we are also putting extra money into things like cyber-crime, because that's today's world.
"A government has to ensure that we are keeping abreast with the changes that take place, with the challenges out there that we need to deal with.
"Of course the terrorist threat is severe, but that's why we ensure that our police, our security service have that counter-terrorism budget and we are increasing the budgets for our security services, but also that they have the powers they need to do the job."
Martin responded: "I appreciate you are protecting the budgets, but we still need the staff to carry out the role of the police officer of keeping the public safe."
Mrs May was pressed about the Conservative Party's social care plans, dubbed the "dementia tax", with one elderly audience member asking: "Why should we in my generation vote for you?"
The PM said the UK faces the challenge of an ageing society, adding about her party's proposals: "It's about ensuring that nobody is going to have to sell their house to pay for care in their lifetime.
"It's about ensuring that £100,000 of savings and assets are protected to pass on to their family.
"We will put an absolute cap on the level of money that people have to spend on care.
"And I think what we're doing is ensuring we can have a sustainable solution for the long-term."
Asked about plans to means-test winter fuel payments, Mrs May said she did not want to "pull out a figure" during an election campaign but "listen to people, talk to people, to take people's views and then make a proposal as government".
She said: "So there's a proper consultation so we're actually hearing from voters, hearing from organisations and charities and others who work with older people about what they think is the right level to set that threshold for winter fuel payments.
"The key principle that would drive what we do is less well-off pensioners will be protected."