In comments strongly endorsed by the Police Federation, Peter Kirkham, a former detective chief inspector said police budget cuts overseen by Theresa May when Home Secretary have “destroyed the service”.
There were now so few detectives left, he said, that those remaining were seriously “overworked” and "overstretched".
Stressing that he was speaking out after receiving “call after call” from frustrated serving officers who feared being sacked if they talked publicly, Mr Kirkham said: “Criminals now think the streets are theirs.
“They are not ducking around in dark alleyways any more. They are doing this in broad daylight, in streets full of people, and they couldn’t give a toss about the fact there are CCTV cameras – because there are no cops out there doing proactive policing.
“We are getting a low level of anarchy on our streets and people are suffering because of it.”
Mr Kirkham, who spent more than 20 years in the Metropolitan Police, appeared to have support from police of all ranks.
While Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, agreed that “the service has been decimated” and some criminals were getting “free rein”, elements of Mr Kirkham’s concerns were echoed by Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
In a blog published on Friday, Ms Thornton wrote that current force funding arrangements, introduced by Ms May in 2015, were no longer enough to ensure effective everyday policing at a time when mainstream officers are regularly diverted to help counter-terrorism efforts.
She wrote: “With officer numbers at 1985 levels, crime up 10 per cent in the last year and police work becoming ever more complex, this additional pressure is not sustainable. The current flat cash settlement for forces announced in 2015 is no longer enough.”
A reduced police presence on the streets, she added, had a knock-on effect for terrorism prevention.
“We’re particularly concerned about the resilience of local neighbourhood policing,” she said. “Fewer officers and Police Community Support Officers will cut off the intelligence that is so crucial to preventing attacks.”
Mr Kirkham said that for an officer of Ms Thornton’s seniority to be expressing such views publicly was effectively “shouting from the rooftops” that there was a problem.
Officers being “borrowed” for counter-terrorism, he said, was impacting on teams that were “overstretched to start with”.
The end result, he said, was that when it came to the Putney Bridge case: “The basic problem is they haven’t got enough cops.”
Mr Kirkham said: “The brunt of the cuts has been borne by the poor bloody infantry: neighbourhood teams and, in the Met especially, detectives investigating routine local stuff.
“Detectives’ workloads have rocketed in the last seven years. I would say the Putney Bridge case would end up on the ‘to do’ list of an overworked detective constable carrying a caseload that in 2010 might have involved 10 or 15 crimes, but which now has him dealing with 30 or 40 offences.”
There was a public outcry when CCTV footage was released in August showing a jogger deliberately barging into a woman who then falls into the path of a bus and only avoids being run over thanks to the quick reactions of the driver.
Vast numbers of people saw the CCTV footage – one YouTube video alone has been viewed 1.3 million times.
Two men were arrested but swiftly released after proving their innocence, and the real ‘Putney Pusher’ is still at large.
Mr Kirkham, however, explained that despite the horrified public reaction, the jogger – if caught – was only ever likely to be convicted of the relatively minor offence of common assault:
“I don’t think there were any serious injuries. I don’t think they could ever prove he intended to push her under the wheels of the bus. He has just been an arrogant idiot.”
The relatively low level of the crime if it got to court, he said, made it hard to justify spending police resources on the kind of exhaustive manhunt that occurs in murder cases.
The imperfect quality of the CCTV footage, he added, meant it was likely only a small number of the jogger’s friends and family could identify him from it – and they might be reluctant to inform on him.
In fact, said Mr Kirkham, given that the investigators had gone to the lengths of getting a second set of CCTV images suggested detectives, they had probably done everything they realistically could, and more than would be expected for the average common assault case in the current post-cuts climate.
Explaining the apparent three-month delay in publishing CCTV footage in August of an offence that had occurred in May, Mr Kirkham said: “I suspect they simply hadn’t got the CCTV footage before then.
“There are massive backlogs – in terms of officers having ridiculous caseloads and in terms of getting and processing CCTV.”
He added: “There are far more serious crimes than this case that aren’t being investigated very well or very quickly.
“Nowadays I wouldn’t expect to do very much more than they have done on Putney Bridge for a GBH, let alone a common assault – because I literally wouldn’t have the staff to do it.”
He said a drop in English and Welsh police officer numbers from 143,734 in 2010 to 123,142 in 2017 – to levels said by Home Office statisticians to be probably lower than at any time since 1985 – was having a drastic effect, and Theresa May was to blame.
“Theresa May has destroyed the police service,” said Mr Kirkham.
“Her mantra has always been, ‘Crime is down, police reform is working’. Well the truth is that crime recorded by the police is up ten per cent year on year, and police reform is an unmitigated disaster.
“The service can’t cope. Nothing is being done properly.”
Understrength neighbourhood police teams, he added, were reduced to rushing from incident to incident rather than proactively patrolling the streets. Local CID units lacked sufficient numbers.
Mr Kirkham said: “Where someone is getting a good kicking in the town centre, and there is going to be CCTV, there is nobody to go and get it, look at it and thoroughly investigate it. So low-level, malicious violence doesn’t get the attention it needs.
“The bad guys notice there are fewer cops. They get more brazen.
“More stabbings are happening, more street crime is happening, the moped crime epidemic is happening, partly because there are no police on the streets any more.”
Mr Kirkham was backed by Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation, who told The Independent: “We have been saying this for a long time – the service has been decimated and the impact is very real.
“We will always respond to emergencies, but it is the other parts of policing that are suffering.
“Neighbourhood policing, investigative policing, armed policing – units have shut, merged, reduced and the net effect of that is criminals get free rein.”
A Home Office spokesman told The Independent that looking at offences recorded by police wasn’t the only way to measure the crime rate.
He said: “Overall crime is down by if you look at the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
“In terms of officer numbers, that’s an operational matter for forces. Chief constables decide how they deploy their forces.
“We think the police have the resources and funding needed to do the job. That said, we are engaging with the police on the demands they are currently facing.”
A Metropolitan police spokeswoman said: “London is one of the safest global cities in the world. There are few others with such low rates of serious crime.
“We have an ambitious transformation programme [for] strengthening local policing by bringing specialist officers closer to communities.