Police forces in England and Wales must do their best to improve the way they deal with calls from the public, an official report has said.
People might have to wait days for an officer to respond to a call, said Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
It said a comparison between the way police and the commercial sector handle contact with the public was "damning".
The Home Office said some steps to ease the pressure had been taken but there was "significant work to be done".
It stressed that pressure on the police should ease when the government introduces a national non emergency number which people can ring instead of 999 to report less urgent concerns, such as noisy neighbours.
Police in the UK receive around 67 million calls for assistance each year.
The HMIC inspected 14 forces in England and Wales, as well as two in Scotland which is outside its jurisdiction.
A third of forces had no call-handling strategy in place, the study found.
It also emerged that there was also a lack of overall strategy concerning the best way to set up call-handling centres
One police communications operator with 20 years' experience said: "Jobs are prioritised so it is not uncommon for a caller to be waiting 24 or 48 hours (or longer) for an officer to attend.
The report adds: "Too many forces have been unable or unwilling to commit the resources needed to develop a call handling function capable of meeting the burgeoning demand for police assistance and information.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The report....clearly shows that there is significant work to be done."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said the HMIC report painted "a chaotic picture", BBC reports.