The recruitment, retention and progression of ethnic minority staff in Britain's police forces is "woeful, piecemeal and pitiful", a senior race relations campaigner has warned.
Keith Jarrett, the president of the National Black Police Association, is calling for a change in the law that will allow forces in England and Wales to adopt an affirmative action policy.
Mr Jarrett, who was speaking to the Guardian before this week's International Black Police Association conference in Manchester that starts today, said: "There are significant black communities in our major cities and you need to have forces reflecting that.
"The best information about a community will come from the community itself, but this relationship can only happen if there is dialogue and a level of trust between the two parties. But where do you start if there is under-representation?
"Approximately 3.7% of the police force is black and it will take another 30 years for the force to be fully representative. If the Met Police wants to meet its own targets it will have to, until 2009, ensure that 90% of the officers recruited are black."
The week-long conference will deal with a wide range of topics affecting black police officers and staff, issues around policing ethnic communities, difficulties faced by female officers and staff, and strategies to encourage black and ethnic minority people to influence and play their part in policing.
The Race Relations Act makes it unlawful to publish advertisements that discriminate on racial grounds or to make arrangements for such advertisements.
However, there are some circumstances where racial discrimination is not illegal. One example is where it can be shown that discriminating on racial grounds in employment is a genuine occupational requirement or that a person being of a particular racial group is a genuine qualification for a job.
Mr Jarrett acknowledged that allegations of corruption and racism within the force compounded the problem of recruiting black people as officers: "The police force is still full of racist people. The only thing we have managed to do is make it covert."
He encouraged members of the community to challenge their constabularies on race relations. "There are provisions within the Race Relations Act and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act stating that it is the statutory duty of chief officers to prevent racial discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relationships between people of different racial groups," Mr Jarrett said.
"But they're getting away with it because nobody knows what questions to ask."