One in 20 police officers is carrying out roles that could be fulfilled by civilians, wasting almost £150 million a year, a think-tank said today.
Too many sworn officers are working in control rooms and forensic suites when those roles could be carried out by cheaper civilian staff, saving better-paid officers for frontline duties, the Policy Exchange said.
It came as figures showed more than 14,500 officers made no arrests at all last year, including almost half of all officers in the Derbyshire force.
Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at the think-tank, said: "Too many sworn officers are hidden away in back offices.
"Some forces like Surrey and Suffolk became more efficient by hiring cheaper civilian staff but many did not.
"As a result taxpayers have spent at least £500 million since 2006 in extra employment costs for over 7,000 police officers who have a uniform, but who aren't policing.
"There remains a clear gap between additional police resources and the service delivered. As far as the public are concerned, the unprecedented expansion in officer numbers since 2001 may as well never have happened.
"The budget cuts in the years ahead will be challenging, but after such a massive investment there is real scope for the police to become more efficient and effective so that taxpayers receive the service they pay so much for."
The Cost Of The Cops report showed civilian staff could be used instead of officers in areas such as forensics, control rooms, operational support and business support, saving more than £20,000 per head.
But, as of March last year, the level of civilianisation in forces ranged from just 34% in the West Midlands to 55% in Surrey, with an average of 43%.
In Surrey, there were 122 staff members for every 100 officers, compared with 52 staff members for every 100 officers in the West Midlands.
By March 2009, 13 forces had more than 90% of their control rooms staffed by civilians, with a force average of 85%.
But in North Wales it was just 56%, with 63% in West Yorkshire and 67% in Durham.
At the Metropolitan Police, Britain's largest force, 72% of staff in its control rooms were civilians, leaving 648 officers in the role - almost 200 more than in 2003, the figures showed.
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Peter Fahy, the lead for workforce development for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: "It is crucially important the police officers are used in roles which require their expertise, powers and experience.
"That said, this doesn't just apply to the front line, there are many office-based jobs where police officers are required, including handling intelligence, delivering training, or processing offenders through the criminal justice system.
"All these roles support our service to the public and in times of emergency such as the recent disorder, all police officers can be deployed for operational duties."
He went on: "In the past police forces would be financially penalised if they went below a target number of police officers, and this has acted as a barrier to further civilianisation.
"That reflects historical political obsession with the number of police officers rather than the effectiveness of the overall workforce and service to the public.
"The reality is that there is little political will locally or nationally to support a reduction in the police officer headcount."
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, warned that the claims and recommendations in the report "simply do not translate into reality".
Paul McKeever, the federation's chairman, said the suggestion that officers should have to wear their uniforms when travelling to and from work to improve visibility takes no account of the risks and problems this could create, including the threat of reprisals to both officers and their families.
The report also showed that more than 14,500 officers made no arrests in 2010.
While this will include some officers not in a position to make an arrest, such as those in management, custody sergeants and undercover investigative roles, "it does suggest that there remain too many officers not in frontline roles where their warranted powers are being exercised", the report said.
In Derbyshire, more than 1,000 of its 2,076 officers made no arrests last year, and in the West Midlands, Britain's second largest force, more than 2,000 of its 8,485 officers made no arrests, figures from 18 of the 43 forces in England and Wales showed.
A spokesman for the Derbyshire force said policing was a complex area and "not a simple equation of those who arrest and those who do not".
Civilians need to make up a bigger share of the police workforce in future to reduce costs and ensure police are better deployed, maximising the visibility of sworn officers, the report said.
A YouGov poll of more than 2,500 adults also found just one in 20 people thought that increasing budgets was the way to make the police more successful, compared with four in five who thought the "most important thing that determines how successful the police are is how efficiently and effectively they are run".
The report also found that too many inactive police officers were on restrictive duties and were not being given enough support to return to a frontline policing role.
It called for forces to bring in standardised annual fitness tests "to improve workforce health and resilience".
:: YouGov polled 2,567 UK adults between August 25 and 26 2011.