Once upon a time not so long ago being physically fit was not necessarily a requirement to be a police officer. Uniforms did not look good on out-of-shape officers; as a matter of fact, the uniforms sort of hung on the officer. We had (have) officers with large waist sizes and shirts (necks) were in the high teens on into the twenties. Heart attacks or suicide were not uncommon causes of death. The hardest drug those “older” guys took was heart medication or alcohol (or, unfortunately, both).
That was before regular exercise was pushed into the life styles of officers. There are a few of the old breed still around however, not having been forced out to pasture or to a position where they’re not seen.
There are also are the officers who for many years worked days without sleep due to man power shortages. In some cases, there were only 4 officers to a department and hundreds of miles of territory. Some of those departments still exist. Along with that was low pay which led to more off duty work to pay the bills. More work meant less sleep, less healthy eating and virtually no exercise time.
Beginning in the mid to late 1990’s and early 2000’s things began to change as the baby boomers became older. Department budgets increased; overtime pay, comp time, or vacations were allowed. Trends today are for police departments to hire young officers that were fit and trim. Those new officers work out daily and are muscular or “pumped up” as they call it.
Some departments pay gym memberships or have work out rooms to continue the officer’s fitness. This is a good thing; however, to keep up the image officers have sometimes taken it a step further. They start with vitamin supplements containing who knows what that have never been tested by the Food and Drug Administration. Then some turn to anabolic steroids (AAS) for getting more muscle mass, lowering body fat or “buffing up.” Some officers utilize injected steroids which leave the body quickly, cutting the chance of a drug test catching them.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A former police officer pled guilty In U.S. District court to selling AAS which he purchased from another police officer. He, along with other officers, was running a gang in the department furnishing AAS to others. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute AAS and two counts with intend to distribute. He was a 14 year veteran.
Broward County, Florida: Sheriff Deputy David Agosto was arrested by Hollywood Police Street Crimes Unit. Members of the BSO unit were conducting surveillance in the area when they saw Agosto and David Kader in the IHOP parking lot. The officer searched Kader’s car. They discovered over 20,000 pills, glass jars suspected testosterone, and syringes. Also, an AK-47, 2 magazines, a Glock 40, and $2821.00. When Agosto was approached he displayed his ID and gave the officer a bottle of AAS. He admitted to purchasing the pills from Kader. Agosto and Kader bonded out of jail. It was unknown at that time if either were using the drugs.
“Larry Gaines, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at California State University in San Bernardino, California said in a speech law enforcement steroid use is a problem around the country and, given that steroid use can cause aggression, can invite problems for police, said “Aggression is not very common but nonetheless it’s a possible problem. If it does occur, you could see lawsuits against police departments regarding citizens injured from steroid rage.”
Victor Conte, founder of the now-defunct lab known as Bay Area Lab Co-Operative that supplied numerous athletes with AAS and other banned substances, said it wouldn't surprise him if as many as a quarter of police officers were using some kind of performance-enhancing drug.
Seem high? There are no empirical studies on the prevalence of AAS in law enforcement. The recent revelations that 248 police officers and firefighters from 53 agencies were tied to a Jersey City, N.J., physician gives some credence to Conte's estimate. The months-long investigation by The Star-Ledger of Newark also found that taxpayers often footed the bill for the drugs since many were prescribed. “Cops' Use of Illegal AAS a 'Big Problem'” (AOL news December 26, 2010)
Phoenix Police department began random steroid testing in 2006. As of 2008 only 6 officers had tested positive for AAS. However in 2007, the DEA had conducted an investigation netting 12 Phoenix employees for AAS.
Around the same time Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico had enacted polices also. Recently Portland Police Department and New Jersey departments have enacted random testing for AAS. With “roid rage” complaints, how long will it be until we have to look at drug testing after a use of force as we do a vehicle accident? There are drawbacks to testing. Its cost is three times that of normal drug testing.
Why are officers turning to AAS? Law enforcement has gradually changed into a no nonsense type of job. Officers are encouraged by command staff to look good in uniform and in public. There is a belief that a healthy officer is a better officer, which I totally agree with. However, self-improvement must be accomplished without steroid enhancement.
Steroids have been banned in sports for many years. They should be in law enforcement. The long term effects to officers’ bodies will not make it worth the trouble. They may remain healthy for a few years but the effects will catch up to them.
Some side effects are high cholesterol levels, severe acne, thinning of the hair or baldness (officers with shaved heads at a young age), fluid retention, high blood pressure, liver problems, sexual disorders, severe mood swings, feelings of invincibility, depression, nervousness, hostility or aggression, and increased chances of injury.
The most common are muscular injuries. With the buildup of muscles, the tendons cannot keep up with the strain. This leads to tendon tears, tendon rupture, and overall weakening joints. Knee blow-outs occur. The user will increase body mass over tasking the ligaments which are not enhanced by the AAS. This leads to tears to the tendons requiring surgery for repair. These injuries are common among officers who work out extensively. On the job studies are not available for the injuries.
Heart damage is also a concern. AAS studies have shown that increase in fluid retention slows the conversion to corticosterone. This is a contributing factor to hypertension in the body. This leads to heart disease and can lead to an enlarged heart, which can cause sudden death.
These are just a few of the complications to taking AAS. The prevention of the loss of one life is well worth the cost. The prevention of one of these officers losing control on a perpetrator or a family member is of obvious value. Management must step up to the plate and begin random testing. If the department is not willing, the government entity (municipality, county or state) or insurer must step in. Officers with a problem need to research what they are doing to themselves and take appropriate action to stop the destruction of their bodies. We all care.
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About The Author:
Randy Rider began his career with the Douglas County Sheriff office, Georgia in 1974. He received several promotions eventually to investigations. His areas of expertise are extensive having worked crimes from petty theft to murder. In 1983 he became employed with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice as an investigator, promoted to Principal Investigator. He eventually moved into the Internal Affairs Unit as an investigator and as a supervisor.
Rider was elected President of the National Internal Affairs Investigators Association in 2005 and stepped down in 2010 having served five years. He is currently the Chaplain of the organization.
He is employed with the Public Agency Training Council one of the largest police training organizations in the country. Rider travels the country teaching officers on internal investigations of corrections facilities and first line supervisors on investigations of citizen’s complaints. He has experience is police audits.
Over the course of his career he has conducted hundreds of investigations concerning abuse, neglect, and use of force by law enforcement officers. Additionally, he has years of experience in custodial investigations, including numerous investigations involving the highly prevalent but seldom reported cases of inmate on inmate abuse. He has conducted investigations of police personnel for acts of misconduct.
A member of the IACP he worked with the organization on the document “Building Trust between the Police and the Citizens They Serve.” Currently he is an advisor on the Leading by Legacy program. He is an advisor to the International Chiefs of Police and the Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services.
Randy is a columnist for Officer.com as the internal affairs author. He published the weekly NIAIA newsletter for five years. He currently publishes the riderreport a police newsletter.