Councillor Donald Moffat, the current vice-convener of Lothian and Borders Police Board, says the draconian action is being taken to reassure communities and minority groups that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
Lothian and Borders Police have confirmed a 51-year-old officer had been suspended while a probe takes place, with disciplinary action anticipated against others involved – all reported to be either constables or sergeants.
All 21 of the men and women work within the force’s ‘G’ Division, which is headquartered in Hawick.
It was an internal monitoring facility which had detected emails containing “inappropriate and offensive material,” within the Borders area division of the force.
Deputy chief constable Bill Skelly said it was a “huge disappointment” that emails of a racist and sexist nature were circulated on the police computer system.
He added: “I consider this to be a very serious matter and have instructed that a 51-year-old police officer is suspended and that further enquiries should be carried out, Initial work has identified another 20 individuals – 16 officers and four police staff – who appear to be involved in this issue.
“They have been spoken to and advised that they are subject to misconduct enquiries. While these enquiries are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Mr Moffat believes the speed and harshness of the action taken by senior officers against those concerned will ensure confidence among ethnic and sexual minority groups in the Borders will not be affected.
He said: “What needs to be remembered is that these emails were uncovered by the police’s own monitoring system and quick action has already been taken against 21 different people. I think the speed with which action has been taken shows that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and it sends a strong message to that effect.
“Also, the individuals involved are all being moved from the Borders, which shows how seriously this is being treated. If I was a member of a minority group, I’d be reassured by the robust way this is being sorted out.”