The provinces are feeling the pinch from a frozen police budget, the Police Association says.
In Motueka, residents of the town at the top of the South Island say there are not enough officers and are worried this could lead to people taking the law into their own hands.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the perception of fewer police on the beat was, in fact, the reality.
"There is per capita, fewer police today than there was six years ago and as a consequence, you've got down-sizing in certain provincial areas and certain urban areas as well."
Mr Peters said there were shortfalls nationwide.
"If you were to ask yourself how many police cars are on the streets of Auckland at any given night, you might be astonished how few there are available, and you've also got certain areas of Hawke's Bay as one of them, and other parts of the country that are saying we are seriously down-sized of having the requisite force we need."
Police Association president Greg O'Connor said something had to give when the police budget had been frozen for several years - as it was the provinces.
"Shortages of personnel, shortages of essentially resource and while it is not manifesting itself quite so greatly in the bigger centres, particularly Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, certainly it is very evident now out in the provinces."
Mr O'Connor said front-line staff numbers were generally being maintained but back-office administration workers were not.
"The problems with cleaning out the back office is that very rarely do you clean out the back office jobs, someone's got to do it - and that is the front-line staff."
South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples said there seemed to be a lack of police in her area at times.
"We might have a spate of burglaries and that definitely makes people very uneasy and obviously if they can't get some instant action, which often happens just simply because of our size, then it makes people feel uneasy and they call for more police."
Ms Staples said it would be good to have more police on the beat but tight budgets made that unrealistic.
Police Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard said he was aware people complained there were too few police but staff numbers had remained the same during the past four years.
"Occasionally we get things wrong and don't turn up as quickly as people expect - and sometimes the service is probably not what I expect - but generally, our rural and provincial communities are supportive of New Zealand Police."
Mr Rickard said some police tactics involved raising police presence and reducing a fear of crime.