Phil Gormley said officer numbers were an “incomplete measure” and said gadgetry could be more useful in tackling crime.
Mr Gormley also backed calls for more low-level offences to be dealt with over the phone.
Asked if the police budget could be better spent on technology than staff, Mr Gormley said: “Yes, I think so.
“Is it better to have 20,000 police officers with rudimentary technology who have to keep coming back to police stations to input things and find out what’s going on, or would it be better to have 18,000 officers who have at their fingertips the ability to input incidents and crimes outwith the station and who can be sent information and intelligence? Obviously, it’s the latter.”
Figures published by the Scottish Government last month showed there were 17,242 full-time equivalent officers between April and June – the lowest number since the final three months of 2010.
Mr Gormley said: “We have a tendency to describe policing and measure its effectiveness by the number of officers and that is an incomplete measure.”
A report published by HMICS on Tuesday said resolving more cases such as vandalism and theft at the “first point of contact” would alleviate demand on the frontline and help address the huge growth in cyber-crime.
Asked about dealing with more low-level crime over the phone, Mr Gormley said: “It’s something we need to think very carefully about.
“It’s about an intelligent response where we’re not just mindlessly deploying [officers] irrespective of the crime. ”
Mr Gormley’s comments came amid calls for a review into Community Payback Order sentencing after it was claimed rapists and child sex offenders are avoiding jail.
He said there were “extraordinary” cases where prison was not the best punishment for sex offenders.
Asked if rapists should always be sent to prison, he said: “In the vast majority of cases I would agree, but you can see examples where although technically it is a rape, there are a whole range of contexts where [a community sentence] might be the appropriate disposal.
“I know I run the risk of sounding soft on crime but it’s one of those cases where we have to be sensitive and intelligent.”