Ray White, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers and Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys, argued that crime posed a greater threat to the country than foreign military forces. His comments drew immediate condemnation from the military.
It is believed to be the first time such a senior officer has directly targeted a rival service in an attempt to claim extra funding. The police and the military have traditionally had very close ties.
Mr White told Acpo's annual conference in Cardiff: "The threat to this country from crime in general, and drugs in particular, probably far outweighs any conceivable modern military threat. I do wonder whether the balance in the distribution of resources now meets our realistic national needs and indeed the priorities of the public. The defence review and other spending reviews may produce opportunities to adjust government priorities, as it has in the United States.
"A distribution of just half a per cent of the 6 per cent of government expenditure from the defence budget to policing for example, would transform our ability to protect the public."
Mr White argued that the 2 per cent budget allocation for the police was not enough to provide extra bobbies on the beat and keep up with developments in technology such as DNA. He compared this with the huge amounts spent on the armed forces. He said: "I read of the debate about whether we should have three new smaller aircraft carriers or two larger ones and about how many jet fighters at pounds 30m each we need for the Royal Air Force."
He said there was a strong case for greater investment in the police, and called on the Government to carry out a fundamental review of funding. "There are certainly many times and places in Britain in which the level of police coverage is worryingly low ... The reality is that patrol resources are often thin to the point of invisibility."
Finally he added: "It is worth noting that in New York birthplace of zero tolerance, the policing level is more than twice as high as in Britain."
In a speech last night to the conference Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said he could not promise any extra resources for the police. Instead he called for greater efficiency and improved performance. "I will not make promises on extra resources which I cannot deliver. You will all know that the Government faces a difficult public expenditure climate. We all need to examine carefully whether we could implement our policy priorities more effectively and efficiently."
He went on to reiterate his support for Zero Tolerance policing to tackle disorderly neighbourhoods. He highlighted new evidence from the British Crime Survey that burglaries and violent crime were far more likely in areas of disorder. He said: "The risks of being a victim of violent crime are more than four times greater in a disorderly neighbourhood than an orderly one."
In response to recent criticism of Zero Tolerance by some chief officers Mr Straw said: "To those who say they are not in favour of Zero Tolerance, I say that I do not mind if you reject the term. But I firmly believe that all police officers should embrace the idea ..."
Several chief constables have criticised the use of the phrase Zero Tolerance, which they believe is being touted as a general panacea to all problems.
In what must be seen as a rebuff Jack Straw said: "Like all good policing Zero Tolerance must be based on a clear strategy. Zero Tolerance won't work if it just means cracking down indiscriminately ... Rather, Zero Tolerance policing requires partnership and it requires a clear focus on locally identified crime problems. Success will depend on being able to identify accurately what the crime problems are, and what effect police action is having."Reuse content