Police must investigate every theft and follow all reasonable leads to catch offenders, the home secretary has said.
Suella Braverman said it was “completely unacceptable” that criminals are often “effectively free to break certain laws”.
She wants officers to use evidence from smart doorbells and dashcams to solve more lower-level crimes.
But the Police Federation of England and Wales said forces are already “stretched beyond human limits”.
There are also concerns the approach may take resources away from high-harm crimes such as rape and sexual assault.
And Labour branded it a “staggering admission of 13 years of Tory failure on policing and crime”.
Data shows that, in the year to March, just 4.4% of all theft offences resulted in someone being charged.
New guidance on investigating such crimes is to be issued to all forces in England and Wales.
It follows talks between the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council – which is made up of senior officers from around the country – and the College of Policing, the professional body for policing staff.
Ms Braverman told BBC Breakfast: “There is no such crime as minor crime – whether it’s phone theft, car theft, watch theft, whether it’s street-level drug-dealing or drug use, the police must now follow every reasonable line of inquiry.”
That means police must to follow up on evidence such as CCTV, doorbell videos or GPS tracking of phone location where there is a chance that a suspect may be identified, she said.
She said she had come across “far too many complaints” from people who had things stolen and “calling up the police only to be given a crime reference number for insurance purposes”.
Home Office figures show that, of all theft cases closed in the year to March 2023, the proportion closed because no suspect had been identified was 73.7%, the highest rate for any category of crime.
In the same year, only 3.9% of residential burglaries resulted in someone being charged. The equivalent figure for vehicle theft was 1.8%, while for thefts from the person it was just 0.9%.
The announcement is welcome news for Chris, 31, from Birmingham, who was able to give police information on transactions made on his stolen fiancee’s card after his car was broken into – but was told by police there was little they could do.
“I found out the exact time of this being used and also explained to the police that there were 15 cameras in the shop so the gentleman is caught on camera. Yet four weeks later nothing at all”, he said.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said police should be pursuing reasonable leads like CCTV anyway.
“The fact that the Tories are boasting about asking the police to do the basic minimum that victims of crime should rightly expect, whilst failing to tackle the underlying problems they have caused, shows how badly they have failed over the last 13 years,” she said.
Steve Hartshorn, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales which represents 145,000 rank and file police officers, said officers were “stretched beyond human limits” and he was not sure how much additional pressure forces could withstand.
He said: “Undoubtedly each and every police officer in the country wants to provide par excellence service to the members of the communities they diligently serve and protect.
“But, unfortunately, headline grabbing announcements by the government will not help officers provide that service. It can only be done if the government provides adequate resources to officers and makes sustained investment in the police service.”
In April, the government announced it had reached its target of recruiting an additional 20,000 more police officers in England and Wales, bringing the overall number of officers to 149,572.
But many of the new officers are replacing the approximately 20,000 who left between 2010 and 2019. The number of officers now is about 3,500 higher than it was in 2010, when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government began cutting numbers, although the increase was not enough to make up for the growth in the population since then.
Concerns have been raised that the loss of high numbers of experienced officers between 2010 and 2019 could affect police performance.
Ms Braverman said England and Wales had a “record number of police officers ever in the history of policing” and “it’sabout ensuring that they are freed up from doing other time consuming tasks.”
Richard Garside, director of the charity Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, saidwhile the new policy sounds like a “no-brainer”, he is concerned that it will divert resources away from more violent crimes such as rape and sexual assault.
“We have a tsunami of male sexual violence towards women and girls as it is,” he said.
“If the police are being told to put even more resources into tackling, say, car and phone crime, that means there’s going to be less time and less focus on those really serious violent offences that, quite rightly, the public are concerned about.”
In London, data from the Met Police showed last year that 250 mobiles phones were stolen a day, an average of one every six minutes.
Ms Braverman denied police resources would be diverted away from tackling serious and complex crime – and insisted they have the resources.
She told BBC Breakfast that police “have the numbers” – and “this is about ensuring that those resources are properly diverted to what I call common-sense policing – back to basics policing, that they don’t dismiss certain crimes as unimportant or minor.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Townsend, Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said the word “reasonable” is open to interpretation.
“What’s reasonable for one force won’t necessarily be reasonable for another, given the types of crime that they’re investigating. And it’s absolutely right that police will always base it on threat, harm and risk.
“But certainly in my own force, and other forces, there are times that we should be investigating further and it’s absolutely reasonable, and the public and the government are right to expect us to do so.”