A national police advertising campaign cost up to £30,000 for every new officer it has taken on, compared with a £250-per-officer cost for local recruitment drives.
The £12m adverts, which appear on television and posters, feature celebrities including pop star Bob Geldof, boxer Lennox Lewis and actress Patsy Palmer. Each describes a difficult situation which a police officer might face and asks: "Could you?"
But despite generating thousands of inquiries about joining the police, the adverts resulted in only a few hundred officers being taken on, BBC figures suggest.
A survey of 13 of the 43 forces in England and Wales found only 120 new officers had been taken on as a direct result of the campaign.