Detective Chief Inspector Charles Hill, 49, the former head of Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiques squad, told The Independent: "Conviction policing is taking a back seat to public image policing. Catching people and providing evidence for prosecutions is how to deal with crime rather than telling people what a wonderful job we are doing."
His comment marked a rare public outburst by a senior detective.
Mr Hill, who joined the Metropolitan Police 20 years ago, has been involved in the investigation of some of the most spectacular cases of art theft. His successes include the recovery of Munch's Scream, stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo.
Now the head of the CID in Belgravia, London, Mr Hill joins Nordstern, a specialist art and antiques insurance company on Monday as a "risk manager" responsible for intelligence.
He said that part of the reason he was leaving the police was because "the private sector has more to offer now as far as crime detection and prevention.
"I'm a detective and want to focus on dealing with criminals and crime, not on being a police bureaucrat. There has been a sea change since I joined the police. It used to be all about catching criminals, bent lawyers and corrupt policemen.
"But now Sir Paul Condon's [the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] agenda is different to that. The London beat is now more about the feel- good factor. Conviction policy is taking a back seat to public-image policing.
"I remain convinced that getting criminals successfully prosecuted is what the police should be doing."
He blamed the rise in crime largely on the "nature of society unravelling" and a belief among a growing number of offenders that they could get away with it. He admitted that an increase in salary, which he declined to disclose, was also an incentive.
Mr Hill's public comments will infuriate the modernisers in the police service who believe that his views are outdated. However, they do appear to enjoy the support of a significant number of officers.
Chief Superintendent Brian Mackenzie, president of the Superintendents Association, said: "It is important to get a balance - perhaps we should go back to being more of a law enforcer. We are not the probation service or the social service, we are the police force."
But he added: "It is important that we police with the consent of the public."Reuse content