Police forces accept that they will have to lose officers as part of the Government's austerity drive, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said.
But Sir Hugh Orde said that in order to maintain frontline policing, officers must be released from some of the constraints imposed by legislation over recent years, and given more freedom to use their own discretion in response to incidents - even if this means that sometimes things go wrong.
He welcomed indications from Home Secretary Theresa May that she is ready to reverse innovations introduced by the former Labour administration, such as anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and 24-hour drinking.
Speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Sir Hugh said that round-the-clock licensing was a "mistake", while Asbos had been "a mixed bag" which worked in some cases, but not in others.
He repeated his insistence that reforms to the oversight of police forces planned by Ms May must not impinge on operational independence, and said chief constables would have to "work very closely" with new elected commissioners to ensure that they do not pursue a populist agenda of getting bobbies on the beat without bearing in mind the other work the police do.
A recent report suggested that only one out of every 10 police officers is available at any time to tackle crime, sparking calls for desk-bound officers to be cut to shift resources to the front-line.
But Sir Hugh said that the officers classed as working at their desks included murder squads and units tackling terrorism and organised crime, as well as traffic cops.
He said: "Chief constables are working day in day out to cut out any fat in the system. We have been doing that for many years.
"We have to recognise that some officers my have to go, but people in offices solve very dangerous and serious crime and bring very dangerous people to justice."
Asked if anti-terror units might face cuts, he said that the head of counter-terrorism John Yates had said he would have to take some of the brunt of cost reductions.