About 100 Australian police are being investigated for circulating racist and pornographic e-mails via the internal police e-mail system, and one officer involved in the scandal has committed suicide, a top official said Thursday.
The investigation in Victoria state follows an independent citizens group report last week that police in the state capital Melbourne have targeted, taunted and beaten African teens, accusing the department of having a "culture of racism."
Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland acknowledged at the time that some officers were racist but said they were a small minority, and in announcing the e-mail probe Thursday he noted that the material involved a variety of offensive themes, including pornographic and sexist material. The officer who committed suicide was not responsible for racist material, Overland said.
Overland refused to elaborate on the content of the e-mails, saying none of it was illegal but that all of it was offensive and in breach of department policy.
"It's a mix of racist and pornographic and otherwise offensive material," he told reporters. "There are varying degrees of involvement and varying degrees of seriousness."
He would not confirm whether any of the racist material referred to Africans or Indians. Both groups have been the target of violence in Victoria state and have criticized police conduct in recent months.
The Age newspaper reported that the investigation centered on a graphic image of a non-Caucasian man being tortured. There were no other details on the image.
The months-long investigation led to two officers receiving what is called a Section 68 — notice that the commissioner has lost confidence in the officers and giving them a chance to explain why they should not be dismissed — for introducing the material into the police system.
The other officers are being questioned for further circulating the e-mails, sometimes adding inappropriate comments of their own.
"It's extremely disappointing that people would behave in this way," Overland said. "They've let us down and they've let themselves down and we'll have to deal with it."
Overland confirmed that a police officer who committed suicide earlier this week was one of two given the Section 68.
Tony Vangorp, 47, tendered his resignation Friday and returned to the police station Monday night and shot himself. Overland said Vangorp had not been responsible for any racist e-mails.
"A tragic event has happened," Overland said. "It's deeply, deeply regrettable and we need to learn the lessons but it doesn't mean that I can or should avoid my responsibilities around the good order and governance of Victoria Police."
The state police department has 13,800 employees, including police officers, public servants and protective security officers.
Overland said his goal in disciplining the officers was to uphold the department's values and keep the confidence of the community.
"How can a community have confidence in this organization if we allow racist, sexist, pornographic, inappropriate material to circulate freely around the organization?" Overland asked. "We can't do it."