One in three people in England and Wales has not seen a bobby on the beat in their local area in the last year, according to a major new study.
A poll carried out for police watchdog HM Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) also found a quarter (26%) of respondents felt unsafe walking alone at night in their neighbourhood.
The findings emerged in a survey of more than 26,000 people, which examined public attitudes toward policing.
Nationally, 36% of people had not seen a police officer or PCSO on foot in their areas in the last year - while just under a quarter (23%) had seen uniformed personnel "once or twice". One in 10 said they saw patrols on foot at least once a week.
The future of traditional patrols by bobbies on the beat has come under close scrutiny in recent years as forces have faced falling staff numbers.
Participants in the survey were also asked how safe they felt when walking alone in their area after dark.
Nearly three-quarters felt safe and did not feel crime was a big problem, the research suggests. Half (50%) said they felt "fairly" safe and nearly a quarter (24%) felt "very safe".
But one in five (21%) felt "a bit" unsafe, and one in 20 (5%) felt "very" unsafe.
Those who felt unsafe after nightfall were mostly from poor areas and disproportionately young or from black and minority groups, or both.
A local area was defined as within about 15 minutes walking distance from home.
Other findings include:
:: The large majority of people are aware of cyber crime but know little about it or efforts to tackle it. Less than 0.5% had been a victim or witness to cyber crime and only half of victims reported it.
:: A third of 16 to 24-year-olds feel unsafe compared with 21% of those aged 65 and over, while people living rurally or in the suburbs generally feel more secure than those in cities.
:: Overall, those surveyed were twice as likely to "speak positively" about the police in their neighbourhood than to "express negative views", yet the majority have no opinion or mixed attitudes.
:: Ratings of police "trail most other local public services" like fire and rescue teams and schools.
:: Nationally, 62% do not think crime and antisocial behaviour is much of an issue while a quarter think it is a "big problem" in their area.
HM Inspector Mike Cunningham said it was "vitally important" for officers to understand public perception.
He added: "How the public experience and perceive the police has a marked effect on their feelings of safety and willingness to engage with the police and report crimes.
"We commissioned this survey in order to inform our inspection programme and have already begun to use these findings to inform the questions we ask of police forces."
A Home Office spokesman said crime had fallen by more than a quarter since June 2010 according to an independent crime survey.
He added: "Ultimately, decisions on the size and composition of a police force's workforce are for individual chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners.
"But effective local policing has always been about more than just visibility and this is even more the case with crime increasingly taking place behind closed doors and online."
Local policing Chief Constable Simon Cole said: "The importance of communication and engagement stands out of this research.
"Those who feel more informed about their local police and are confident they can get hold of police when needed feel safer."
Ipsos Mori surveyed more than 26,000 people online aged 16 and over across England and Wales between July 15 and August 6 last year.