The photos include images of bondage and torture, and some are sexually explicit.
Assistant Commissioner Randy Beck, acting commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, confirmed Thursday that the force has launched an investigation into the officer's actions, which will be led by the Richmond, B.C., RCMP.
"In keeping with the RCMP's commitment to hold our members to a higher standard, I am taking the unusual step of asking an external police agency to independently review our internal code-of-conduct investigation," Beck said in a statement.
Beck didn't say which independent police agency would later review the code-of-conduct investigation.
The officer in charge of the Coquitlam detachment, where the Mountie under investigation is based, was aware of the pictures as far back as December, 2010, but at the time believed the pictures existed only on the man's personal flash drive, Beck said.
After consultation, he did not believe it met the threshold for a code-of-conduct violation, Beck said.
"While we must strike a balance between an individual's rights and freedoms when off duty and the RCMP code of conduct, I am personally embarrassed and very disappointed that the RCMP would be, in any way, linked to photos of that nature."
The RCMP has not identified the officer, but published reports say Cpl. Jim Brown is the subject of the pictures, which show sexually explicit torture images, including one picture where the man is holding a large butcher knife to a naked woman's throat.
Brown could not be reached for comment.
Several of the photos show a bald-headed man with a goatee, dressed in black, leather-like pants, with a large machete. In one image he is binding the hands and feet of a woman who is lying on green grass and wearing a yellow dress.
Nothing the man wears appears to connect him to the RCMP, although he does wear a pair of tall dark boots in some images.
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which is examining why it took police so long to catch convicted B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton, was also asking questions Thursday because Brown played a minor role during the investigation of Pickton.
Wally Oppal, inquiry commissioner, said in a statement that the commission has no evidence to support reopening the hearings.
"I have instructed commission counsel to gather more information regarding the RCMP investigation into the situation," said Oppal, noting lawyers have been communicating with officials in the justice department.
The delay in the code-of-conduct investigation is being criticized by psychologist Mike Webster who counsels male and female Mounties who have faced harassment.
"What do you think this is going to do to the families of the missing women when they find out this guy was involved even minimally in this (Pickton) investigation, and he's engaged in this kind of behaviour and his employer is minimizing it," asked Webster.
"What do you think it's going to do to them? They are going to be secondarily traumatized."
He said a once-proud national icon is very quickly becoming a national disgrace.
A chronology of key investigation events, found on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry's website, confirmed Brown played a small role in the investigation of Pickton, who was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder after the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. in 2002.
For Rob Gordon, director of the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University, the issue is of public interest because police, like many professionals, are held to higher standards than society in general and are subject to codes of conduct.
"They are individuals who are looked up to by a large number of people in communities. There are expectations around their behaviour, which obviously are not reflected in this particular individual's conduct."
Gordon said the photos were a dreadful judgment call, the optics are absolutely terrible, and the force has had to deal with an endless stream of crisis lately.
"It's as if somebody is feeding it into a fan by the shovel load," said Gordon.
In May, the RCMP confirmed an internal disciplinary board had reprimanded Sgt. Don Ray for having sex with subordinates, exposing himself to a co-worker and drinking on the job. Ray is now working in B.C.
Since last fall at least five lawsuits have been filed by current and former female Mounties against the RCMP.
But the Mounties are not the only members of the criminal justice system to deal with ethical issues related to sex.
The Canadian Judicial Council is holding an inquiry into the actions of Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas, after naked photos of her appeared on a website while she was a lawyer.
In addition to an allegation of sexual harassment against a man, Douglas has been accused of undermining confidence in the justice system and her ability to act as a judge.