Almost 30,000 criminals including rapists and burglars "have escaped the justice system" in the London area by being handed a police caution, it has been revealed.
The Metropolitan Police - Britain's largest force - is handing the out-of-court reprimand to thieves, arsonists and those guilty of assault, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The numbers show that 1,356 criminals were cautioned for wounding or grievous bodily harm over 2013/14, while 301 drug traffickers were given cautions.
Criminals responsible for 286 sex offences, including two rapes, also avoided court by accepting the rebuke.
Many offenders are "getting off" with multiple cautions and fines rather than having to face court, with 236 offenders receiving the reprimand more than five times.
Critics branded the figures "shocking" and said victims were being let down by criminals being dealt with in the "privacy of the police station" rather than in open court.
Tony Arbour, a Conservative London Assembly member who requested the figures, said: " The public can't have confidence in a system where so many offenders are dealt with outside of court, just so that cases can be disposed of quickly.
"In effect, these people are being let off - some characters on more than five occasions. Cautions and fines should only be used as a warning the first time a criminal is caught."
He added: "If you have been a victim of a serious assault or a burglary, with all the trauma that entails, and discover that the matter has simply been dealt with by a caution, you would be very angry.
"It may well be preventing people from coming forward and reporting crimes if they think it will just be disposed with by a caution. The last thing we want are people not reporting crimes. That way lies lawlessness.
"This should be a wake-up call to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service."
He said the public would feel let down at revelations that 236 offenders had had more than five cautions and called for a cap so criminals could only receive one caution before they are forced to go to court.
He said: "It is preposterous - that person is a repeat offender and should absolutely go to court.
"It may be that the police think they may not get a conviction, but the public expect these people to be tried rather than dealt with in the privacy of a police station.
"I would have thought that, in the interests of the public seeing justice being done, a one caution cap would be the right thing to do."
Mr Arbour said police were resorting to the reprimands as a cost-saving measure as cautions are a quick and "cheap" way of resolving a crime which counts towards official statistics.
He said: "If the police can say that they have caught the perpetrator and they have been punished, because a caution is a punishment, then that is helpful for their statistics.
"If the CPS think they are going to lose they may well feel that getting a satisfactory resolution and a cheap resolution is better than going to trial and losing. However, the victims wouldn't think that way and neither would the public."
Mr Arbour is calling for victims to receive written explanations of decisions in the event of a caution or fine, and for the results to be posted online to boost accountability.
In total, 29,560 cautions were handed out to criminals by the Met over the past year - slightly up from 28,998 in 2012/13.
A spokesman for the Met said officers follow official guidelines and are told to use their professional discretion when handing out cautions.
He said: " A caution is a serious matter; they are not taken lightly and we are conscious of the consequences that this judicial disposal can have on a person's future.
"It should also be recognised that they are used predominately to deal with first-time offenders and as an alternative to court appearance where guilt is admitted."
He said in some sex cases where the victim did not want to go to court cautions were handed out as it allowed the criminal to be put on the sex offenders register for two years.