The largest police force in Britain could recruit an officer from an ethnic minority for every white officer it hires.
Scotland Yard has held talks with the Government about changing the law to boost the number of ethnic minority applicants.
The force said it wants to break the mould of a ‘white, male-dominated’ force to match the growth of London’s ethnic population.
Senior officers are interested in replicating a radical Northern Ireland system which saw one Catholic officer recruited for every Protestant officer.
Assistant commissioner Simon Byrne said the Met’s idea would mean they ‘could only recruit, in very broad terms, a white officer if you can recruit a black or minority ethnic person at the same time’.
Mr Byrne, who is in charge of territorial policing, said the current law ‘doesn’t allow us to be as bold as we could be’.
Positive discrimination, where a lesser qualified candidate is awarded a job just because he or she is from a minority, is currently illegal in mainland UK.
The Met sparked outrage two years ago when it banned white middle-class students from applying for internships.
Critics were quick to brand the 12-week Diversity Internship – which gives students a head start in the battle for police jobs – as degrading.
Last night John Tully, who heads the Metropolitan Police Federation which represents rank and file officers, said he was opposed to the latest plans.
‘Our position is that we do not support positive discrimination,’ he said. ‘Selection for all jobs should be purely on merit.’ At the moment nine out of 10 Met officers are white, while the latest census data shows London’s ethnic population is around 40per cent.
Some police chiefs fear overly white forces, especially in urban areas, risk damaging the legitimacy of policing as they exercise the power of the state over increasingly ethnically diverse populations.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Byrne said: ‘We have not kept pace with the changing shape of London… The thing we have got to overcome, by legacy and history, we have broadly been, initially, a white, male-dominated organisation.’ Mr Byrne said the danger was that the force would end up missing the chance to change the ethnic make-up of recruits and ‘get swamped by applications from our relatives’.
He admitted the ’50-50′ proposals amounted to ‘positive discrimination’ which would require a change in the law.
His comments came as the Met is about to embark on a huge public recruitment campaign for 5,000 officers over the next four years.
Senior officers fear the mainly white face of policing risks damaging relations with minority communities and also makes the police less effective in fighting terrorism.
In a separate interview Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: ‘The police service is not as effective as it could be in countering terrorism because of its ethnic make-up.
‘A big part of dealing with terrorism and crime is gathering intelligence, having people who get to know local people.’
Sir Peter said he now wanted to push the law to the limit to stipulate that recruits would be more likely to be chosen if they had knowledge of a language or of an ethnic community.
Two months ago the National Black Police Association said the Met was still ‘institutionally racist’ – some 14 years after an official inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder came to the same conclusion.
Critics of the police say that as well as the ranks being too white, police discrimination leads to minority ethnic people being more likely to be subjected to stop and search than whites, which damages confidence and trust in the police.