It’s no secret that in many communities peace officers have become anything but peaceful. Is a large part of it due to steriod abuse? Journalist David Krajicek thinks so – and he’s not alone. According to his recent article on AlterNet, a large part of the problem may be substance abuse. Furthermore, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) expressed concerns about the issue over 11 years ago. However, even as far back as 1989, police officers appearing on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, in a segment entitled “Beefing Up The Force,” admitted to using anabolic steroids.

Police brutality, while not a new phenomenon, has been on the rise over the past few decades. In a recent study entitled Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture and Police Brutality, Colin Jenkins of the Hampton Institute attributes the rise to cultural factors such as militarization, authoritarianism, economic class and racism. However, steroid abuse is a far greater problem than the public realizes. The FBI saw it coming in 1991. In August of that year, three members of the bureau published an article in Law Enforcement Bulletin No. 60, entitled “Abuse of Anabolic Steroids.” The authors stated: “Anabolic steroid abuse by police officers is a serious problem that merits greater awareness by departments across the country.”

In 2005, the DEA started “Operation Raw Deal,” targeting underground manufacturers of anabolic steroids around the world. Over the next two years, the DEA made 124 arrests, but also found numerous links to law enforcement officers in the US. In 2008, Police Chief Magazine published an extensive article, “Anabolic Steroids and Abuse by Police Officers: Policy and Prevention.”  Written by a team of law enforcement and medical professionals, the article explored the issue of steroid use by police officers in depth, including its dangers to the public – as well as to officers themselves.

Since then, the problem has only gotten worse.  Reports from across the US and Canada  indicate that the use of anabolic steroids has risen dramatically among police officers. Why are they doing it? The reason is obvious: police work requires a high level of physical fitness and is carried out under dangerous, even life-threatening conditions. Abusers are seeking to maintain a physical “edge.” Unfortunately, they are not only endangering their own long-term physical and mental health – they are putting the public at risk, as well as their fellow officers. Unfortunately, detection is spotty due to inconsistent and even lax drug testing policies across the country. At the 115th Annual Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2008, the organization approved a resolution titled “Encouragement for Law Enforcement Officers Training and Policies Concerning the Use of Steroids and Dietary Supplements.” The resolution called upon law enforcement agencies to adopt stronger policies prohibiting the use of steroids and the creation of educational programs presenting the dangers of steroid abuse.

Six years later, virtually nothing has been done.

There are a couple of ironies in this situation. First, certain politicians and states are quite enthusiastic about drug testing for people on assistance programs. Secondly, professional athletes who are found guilty of steroid abuse often face stiff penalties as well as career consequences. Yet the problem among police officers continues to go unaddressed.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.