Speaking in Edinburgh last night at the annual Apex lecture, Sir Stephen House, chief constable of Police Scotland said the police need to be clear on their core role.
"There used to be a policing policy called problem-solving policing," he said. "My own view is that we are not a solutions agency. We are a restraining agency. We can control behaviour, we can rarely change it."
He said what changes behaviour is "employment where there was joblessness", education and good housing, but he added: "We are an enforcement agency; we should not try to do the job of other people."
In an indication of his intent to refine the police's role, Sir Stephen said the police should stick to what they are good at and that key support roles fulfilled by partners such as Assist, the specialist advocacy and support service for domestic abuse, should continue to be done by those agencies and not officers.
He said. "It is not where our skills lie."
Partners could not expect the support of police just because they have a historic relationship, he said, adding there must be evidence of effective working.
"The status quo is gone," he said. "We are in the middle of significant change. Every organisation we work with is in the midst of considerable change. We need to reduce our spend and that will mean tough decisions."
He emphasised the service's core values of integrity, fairness and respect but said he would make no apology for his emphasis on performance.