New Zealand's police force has been forced to apologise after posting a tweet addressing a recent spate of road deaths that included a GIF image and read "when we have to tell someone their family member has died in a crash."

The animated image featured Steve Carell in the US version of the comedy TV series, The Office, alongside a caption which read: "This is the worst!" The tweet, which was posted earlier today (9 October) from the official New Zealand Police Twitter account, has now been deleted, but was quickly screen-grabbed by shocked social media users.

"That's more than tone deaf, that's absolutely horrible," wrote one Twitter user, while another expressed their amazement that "anyone even considered tweeting that, let alone searched for the meme, drafted the tweet & then shared with the world!"

Prior to the tweet, New Zealand police had reported that nine people had died in road-related incidents over the past weekend. 292 road deaths have been registered in the region in 2017 - up 41 from figures released in 2016.

"We apologise for the recent road safety tweet," New Zealand police wrote in an apology tweet. "We quickly realised it was wrong & insensitive & it was immediately deleted. Thx for feedback." In a reply to another user, the police also wrote: "Telling someone their loved is not coming home is one of the hardest things cops ever have to do."

A spokesperson from New Zealand police public affairs unit told The Guardian: "We feel terrible about this mistake. We appreciated the prompt feedback we got from members of our community who pointed out the inappropriateness of the tweet. We are extremely sorry."

The police's "inappropriate" tweet follows another recent social media gaffe from the New Zealand First political party, which accidentally used a picture from a porn video in one of its Facebook campaigns late last month.