Major deficiencies in recruitment and training at the Metropolitan Police have emerged as competition for staff intensifies with the prison and armed forces.
The force denied that a major billboard recruitment drive last autumn had flopped, but admitted it is still below strength. The initiative was partly aimed at attracting more ethnic minority recruits.
"It is going to take time, especially given that the Prison Service and Army are also trying to recruit ethnic minorities and we are all looking for the same thing. It is not as if we are in isolation," said a spokesman for the Metropolitan Force.
He added that inadequate pay "is severely hampering the Met's ability to recruit and retain its staff".
There are 26,267 police officers in the force compared with 28,400 in 1993. The current figure is 158 below the target.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Condon has called for a London weighting or "pay lead" for London officers.
Last autumn, the Metropolitan Police launched a high-profile series of adverts in an attempt to recruit much-needed extra officers, particularly from ethnic minorities.
The spokesman denied they had failed, and said it was impossible to accurately assess the impact of individual campaigns.
Weaknesses in training as well as recruitment procedures were identified by the Inspectorate of Constabulary in a report published last week.
Recommendations included the development of a community race relations strategy and a review of the training of recruitment interviewers.
Andrew Marston, personnel director at Greater Manchester Police, said Manchester is carrying out race relations training with officers.
"My understanding is that the Met are in a similar position," he said.
"Recruitment is a very difficult issue. If you have communities that have the perception that they are being unfairly dealt with by the police, they will not feel they can get a fair deal within the police so there is a cycle there that needs to be broken."
By Helen Rowe