The number of officers with London's Metropolitan Police investigated for possessing or distributing obscene images has been described as "disturbing" and condemned by politicians.
The force said it had investigated 55 of its own officers for possessing or sharing obscene images since 2006, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by business news website LondonLovesBusiness.com has revealed.
The year 2013 registered the highest number of cases since 2006, with 18 allegations against 19 officers.
Though the force did not disclosure the nature of the images, it defines them as those which “generate complaints”.
The force said there had been 43 cases into 63 allegations since 2006.
Of these allegations, 23 were substantiated, leading to seven dismissals but 12 officers were allowed to resign or retire rather than face disciplinary action.
Members of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, which oversees the force, condemned the figures.
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, said: “Even allowing for the fact that these cases represent a very tiny fraction of the vast number of officers, these figures are still disturbing, especially the steep increase in cases that took place in 2013.
“We need a full explanation as to why this problem appears to be getting worse in the Met.”
Joanne McCartney, the Labour Assembly Member who chairs the committee, said: “These complaints are extremely serious and should be investigated in as robust a fashion as possible. The Met must remain ever vigilant to ensure that the public can have the utmost confidence in their officers.
"It’s also important that officers should not be able to resign to avoid disciplinary proceedings. The Met assured the London Assembly they would no longer allow this to happen and this must be adhered to.”
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said the officers accused over obscene images were "an extremely small proportion" of its workforce of around 55,000. The FOI related only to officers and did not include staff, who work for the force but do not have warranted powers, meaning the total number of those investigated within the force for obscene images is likely higher.
The force added: "The Metropolitan Police Service takes any allegations of wrong-doing by officers or staff very seriously. Where appropriate, allegations of criminal behaviour or misconduct are investigated thoroughly by officers from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards. Investigations may also be managed or carried out independently by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.”
Green Party member Baroness Jenny Jones, who also sits on the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, criticized the force for allowing officers to leave after the allegations against them were upheld, saying this was "incredibly damaging" to public confidence in policing.
The issue of police officers and staff resigning ahead of disciplinaries or during misconduct investigations has proved contentious and many forces have pledged to clamp down on it.
Baroness Jones said: “I am concerned that the 23 substantiated allegations led to 12 resignations or retirements which show once again that police officers have been able to leave on their own terms despite alleged wrongdoing.
“The deputy commissioner of the Met has said he has ended this practice, assuring me that officers could only leave in ‘rare instances’.
“However, last year when allegations were substantiated against two officers they were allowed to retire or resign rather than be held to account for their actions. It is incredibly damaging to public confidence when police wrongdoing goes without sanction. It gives the impression it is one rule for the police and another for the public.
“Other forces hold disciplinary hearings in absentia and this is something the Mayor should instruct the Met to take up.”
A Met spokesman told HuffPostUK: "If there is sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation and possible charges, then that would happen independently of any disciplinary investigation held to establish measures that should be taken by the Met, as an employer, against the member of staff.
"Clearly, if somebody resigns, then any measures that we may take as an employer - such as suspension, restricted duty, words of advice - become irrelevant. Resignation would, however, have no effect on any decisions relating to a criminal case."