Police are "buried under" 6,497 pages of guidance on new legislation and risks to avoid, the chief inspector of constabulary has warned.
Sir Denis O'Connor said officers in England and Wales were discouraged from making decisions and called for the return of "common sense".
He said the public wanted to see more police on the beat but many officers had been given other specialist roles.
The government has vowed to cut bureaucracy to free up officers.
'Lesser spotted constable'
Sir Denis told the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) annual conference the service was "creaking under the weight of its own massive, well-intended bureaucracy", and as the "mountain" of guidance has grown, the number of officers requiring specialist knowledge had also risen.
Sir Denis said that a moratorium on any new guidance was vital and a "radical change of tactics" was needed.
He criticised "telephone directory" manuals and said they could be replaced by software applications similar to those found on iPhones.
Sir Denis said: "The truth is they are not going to do much of all of this because it's impossible to absorb it.
"You'd need a Lancaster bomber to deliver it all to people.
"Instead you need to get back to a common sense basis. People do want to see the lesser spotted constable, they really do.
He said the police were unable to keep up with the public's expectations of their capabilities and the guidelines resulted in forces employing more specialists and fewer people on the frontline.
He said: "In the last four years there has been a 30.9% increase in officers covering national functions such as counter-terrorism, an 8.8% rise in investigators and a 2.4% fall in the number of uniform officers policing our communities, equating to around 1,400 officers," he said.
"This fall has been masked by the introduction of police community support officers."
"The British model of policing is built around the presence of bobbies on the beat, preventing crime. The more policy aimed at eliminating all possible risks, the less time officers are available to those who need them," he said.
He urged senior officers to turn the financial crisis to their advantage and implement reform that would lead to power being handed back to the frontline.
He highlighted guidance that told officers told how to ride bicycles and use handcuffs.
Officers are "spending significant amounts of time managing social care issues - just in case", he said, citing instances of police escorting drunk people home and intervening in domestic disputes between parents and their children.
He said: "The police cannot eliminate risk, nor can they offset all risks.
"The more they attempt to do so around particular harms, the less that is available for everyday prevention."
The Manchester delegates heard that at least 4,000 new pledges were made last year while Sir Denis said the current guidance documents contain 6,497 pages compared to the original 1829 police handbook that had just 52.
He also called for a shift in policing principles.
At present, guidance states that officers must "take all reasonable action to keep risk to a minimum" - he said he wants that to be relaxed to the "most probable" risks they "can reasonably be expected to deal with".
But he also added police will have to remain firm even when things do not quite go to plan.
"The public want to see the police, and leaders must stand by those who have to make tough decisions on the information they have and allow reasonable mistakes to be made without a witch-hunt," he said.
Earlier this week, Home Secretary Theresa May told the conference she wanted to help police get back to basics.
"Targets don't fight crime, targets hinder the fight against crime," she said.
"In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn't be any clearer about your mission: it isn't a 30-point plan, it is to cut crime, no more and no less."