LONDON — London police officers routinely made jokes about rape and exchanged racist messages, according to a report from England’s official police watchdog that detailed a pattern of misogyny and bullying in the force, the latest blow to an embattled service that has faced intense scrutiny in recent months.
The findings reflected a troubling culture within the London Metropolitan Police Service, according to the report released Tuesday by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the police watchdog, which made more than a dozen recommendations to tackle the problem. It said the episodes it detailed were not isolated ones or the work of a few “bad apples.”
The report comes amid growing calls for increased scrutiny of the force after the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old London woman, by a Metropolitan Police Service officer in March 2021 highlighted broader concerns about misogyny within policing, and violence against women and girls.
“The behavior we uncovered was disgraceful and fell well below the standards expected of the officers involved,” Sal Naseem, the police watchdog’s regional director, said in a statement, adding that the “issues are not isolated or historic.”
Mr. Naseem said that the watchdog welcomed current efforts to root out problematic behavior and attitudes from the police force, including an continuing formal independent review of the standards and culture within the service, but “more is required.”
“Our recommendations focus on the identified cultural issues and aim to ensure that those who work for the force feel safe with their colleagues, and that communities feel safe with those whose job is to protect them,” Mr. Naseem said.
The Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement that the actions of the police officers in central London that the report detailed do “not represent the values” of the force.
The report was the result of findings from a series of investigations into the Metropolitan Police Service that uncovered evidence of bullying and discrimination within its ranks. They began after a complaint alleging that an officer had sex with a drunk person at a police station, but soon grew to encompass many more issues.
The investigation ended in September after a review of thousands of messages between officers, according to the report, which included many that were “highly sexualized, discriminatory or referred to violence” and which were generally described as “banter” by officers in their defense.
The report also detailed repeated racism and xenophobia, with messages between officers that mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and non-Christian religions, insulted people with disabilities and included homophobic comments.
The investigations were initiated in 2018, long before the national outcry over policing that followed Ms. Everard’s death, but have since taken on new resonance.
The evidence uncovered in the report included a series of messages between officers in WhatsApp groups, with highly offensive and openly racist commentary, as well as disparaging comments about women.
In one exchange, two officers talked about domestic violence, with one officer writing about women, “Knock a bird about and she will love you. Human nature.”
In another exchange, a male officer told a female officer, “I would happily rape you.”
The report said that “the casual exchange and blasé nature of this communication indicates a culture where officers were comfortable to make these comments, suggesting it was part of a status quo rather than an exception to the norm.” It added: “the messages appeared to be sent without fear of repercussion or consequence.”
The report offered 15 recommendations aimed at tackling the underlying cultural issues in the force, which included recommending that it “publicly commit to being an anti-racist organization with a zero-tolerance policy toward sexism, misogyny, bullying and harassment.”
Bas Javid, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, said in a statement that he was “angry and disappointed to see officers involved in sharing sexist, racist and discriminatory messages,” and it was clear more work needed to be done to eradicate bullying and discrimination from the force.
“The actions of these officers between 2016 and 2018 were unacceptable, unprofessional, disrespectful and deeply offensive,” he said.
Several officers have already been subject to misconduct proceedings as a result of the investigation. Fourteen were put under notice that they were being investigated, and two officers were dismissed for gross misconduct and put on a list that bars them from future employment with the police, according to the watchdog. Two others resigned and several others faced disciplinary action.
Sue Fish, the former chief of Nottinghamshire Police in northern England, who has been a vocal advocate for ending misogyny within the police service, said the report “graphically portrays the toxic racist and sexist culture which is endemic in policing.”
She said police forces should make it clear that there is zero tolerance for such behavior, make it clear to officers that their interactions on social media are subject to the officers’ code of conduct, including when off duty, and transform vetting and recruitment.
“This report focuses on the Met, but it could be reflected in virtually any police station up and down the country,” she said.
Some lawmakers have called for the resignation of Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police Service, including Diane Abbott, an opposition Labour lawmaker who represents an east London district, in a post on Twitter.
But the government has so far stood behind Ms. Dick despite the turmoil of the last year.
Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary, who is responsible for overseeing policing nationally, in a statement condemned the officers’ behavior as “sickening” and called on the police service and London’s mayor to implement the recommendations “as soon as practically possible.”
Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour party’s lawmaker responsible for policing, said the actions were a “total disgrace.”
“The vital work police do means highest standards must always be maintained and abuse must be rooted out,” she said in a statement.