The reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland will not tolerate sectarianism or racism in any form. That's the message from the PSNI's deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie, who confirmed to he press this week that she has suspended four police officers after an internal inquiry into the racist and sectarian text messages they allegedly sent.

"We have had previous investigations who used racist texts and they were dealt with very seriously but this is the first time I can recall that we've suspended four officers," Gillespie told the Guardian.

The texts were reportedly found during an internal investigation, and the officers involved are said to work in various areas of the PSNI but are not senior officers.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for officers to engage in racist and sectarian language, and far less to exchange that in the form of texts to each other," Gillespie added. "The message is loud and clear, that racist and sectarian behavior on the part of police officers is absolutely not tolerated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

Gillespie would not be drawn on the precise wording of the texts but added, "I would be confident that if you had access to any of these texts, you would find them deeply offensive. I have to say I'm very proud to be the deputy chief constable – we have a very proud record of service – but in terms of the context of these four officers' behavior this is not my proudest day."

The racist and sectarian texts controversy has damaged the police services image, but the force has otherwise risen to the major reforms made to it over the last decade. After the 1998 Good Friday agreement, a new 50-50 recruitment policy was implemented to bring in more Catholic officers. Currently about 30 percent of PSNI staff are now Catholic.

However the Northern Ireland Council on Ethnic Minorities has found that around one in seven people of ethnic-minority origin in the north would feel they would be "treated poorly" if they joined the PSNI because of their race or color.

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