Police in a Berkshire town have said they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal goods worth less than £100.
Thames Valley Police officers told residents of Hungerford that austerity cuts meant the response to crimes would now need to be prioritised.
The disclosure came days after a police watchdog warned that policing in Britain is in a "potentially perilous" state while officers were arresting fewer people and too many crimes are being shelved without proper investigation.
Shopkeepers in the town of 6,000 people have now complained it could become a magnet for thieves.
A police officer addressing a Hungerford Town Council meeting earlier this week told councillors "We won't be making arrests all the time and taking it through the courts - it's not practical."
Sgt Holly Nicholls said complaints would be dealt with under a system to prioritise calls, the local newspaper reported, adding "For example, we wouldn't necessarily deal with shopliftings of under £100 now."
She added "Our main priorities are violence against the person, burglaries theft from motor vehicles and so on."
This will leave people baffled. What message is this sending out, that the theft of property under a certain amount is not really theft?
John O'Connell, TaxPayers' Alliance
When asked if that meant "so less than £100 and you won't be coming out to it?"
Sgt Nicholls replied "Yes."
Town residents were told that shopkeepers struck by thieves who took less than £100 of items would be “given a form to fill in and hand to the police”.
Thames Valley Police later tried to calm anger in the town over the comments, saying they were “incorrect”.
Jayne Robertson, a mother of three living in the town, said: "This is appalling - we're going to be flooded with criminals who know they'll get off Scot-free if they make sure they keep the bill under £100.
"What sort of message does this send out? What are we paying our rates for if the police won't turn up to arrest shoplifters? It's crazy."
John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This will leave people baffled. What message is this sending out, that the theft of property under a certain amount is not really theft? What was the process used to settle on this seemingly arbitrary amount? Also, how is is it going to be enforced in the case of shoplifting? Authorities will need to explain this policy in far greater detail to convince residents of its credibility."
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the independent watchdog that assesses the performance of the police earlier this month issued an unprecedented warning about under resourced forces.
The inspectorate said a shortage of detectives and investigators amounted to a "national crisis", while victims are being let down as police fail to carry out basic functions.
There are nearly 46,000 wanted suspects on the police database, including those being sought for murder, rape and terror offences, according to the latest figures from August last year.
Inspectors found evidence of some emergency calls being downgraded in order to justify a slower response and failings in responding to vulnerable victims.
Fewer arrests were made, a large number of crimes were effectively "written off", suspects were not always pursued and inexperienced officers were left to carry out complex investigations, the review found.
A spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police said the force “responds to all incidents based on threat, harm and risk.
“Officers will continue investigate shoplifting offences and the local neighbourhood teams continue to work closely with businesses to assist owners with keeping their businesses safe from all types of crime. Crime prevention advice is also available on our website.”