Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Question: Why test Texas high school athletes for steroids but not police officers?

The Texas Education Agency has received 14 bids to provide steroid testing for Texas high school athletes, but plans to wait until next year to implement the program to allow time for public comment and vetting the proposal, reports the Houston Chronicle.

My question: Is this really the highest priority group we need to test? We're talking about a lot of kids. "Neither the NCAA nor International Olympics Committee tests as many athletes for illegal steroid use as the proposed Texas high school program," reported the Chronicle.

Meanwhile, no tests exist for many designer steroids on the market, as troubles in Major League Baseball attest.

I recently finished a pseudonymous book by a former Texas police officer and steroid abuser (discussed earlier here) who writes "there are a lot of men and women in this country who continue ot use steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and a surprising number of them work as police officers and firefighters." Titled "Falling Off the Thin Blue Line: A Badge, a Syringe, and a Struggle with Steroid Addiction," the book tells the officer's personal story and gives new insight into how widespread the problem is.

Finishing the book left me relieved that Mr. Johnson has left law enforcement. He went in for all the wrong reasons, the same reasons why he took up bodybuilding and began using steroids: He considered himself a "nerd" and was "tired of being picked on." I'd hope that sort of revenge-oriented psychological motivation could be screened out during the hiring process, but I'd guess Johnson isn't alone in entering law enforcement hoping to get even with some psychic shadow from his past.

We also get a picture of an officer unafraid to take advantage of the perks that come with the position. "Working as a police officer is ideal for bulking up because of the free and discounted food we receive when going to restaurants and fast food establishments. Of course, not all places give discounted or free food, but there are enough of them to keep hunger at bay," he wrote matter-of-factly. In another scene where he boasts how much weight he's gained from using growth steroids designed for horses, he describes dropping by a McDonalds drive-thru for "an armload of free food," exuding, "You can't beat free food."

Johnson also enthused at how easy it was to transport illegal steroids and rigs in his vehicle, comforted by the knowledge that if an officer pulled him over for a traffic violation, "professional courtesy" would dictate they'd let him off with a warning.

The author's main steroid connection told him he sells to other cops they mutually knew from their gym, including members of Houston's SWAT team, and boasted that cops had given him information about ongoing investigations in steroid cases. "'The cops at HeavyWeights are good guys. In the past, when something was going down with any local busts, sometimes they would give me a heads up so I would lay low for a while. It's good to have that on your side,' he explained." "I can imagine," Johnson replied, though it apparently never occurred to him to report his fellow officers' serving as snitches for a major steroid dealer.

Johnson began selling injection equipment at his gym and online to other steroid users, and even used rigs and steroids to barter for other services, including contact lenses and an optometrist's exam. He claims at his business' height he made more money selling this equipment (legal in Texas, he insisted), than at his police job. But the countless justifications in the book that his business was technically "legal" fell flat the moment he began to be investigated. Johnson describes in excruciating detail how he sold his website and systematically destroyed all evidence related to his business selling needles and rigs.

The two agencies named that "David Johnson" worked for were the Sugar Land PD and the Harris County Sheriff's Office, but there's pretty strong evidence the problem is more widespread than just Mr. Johnson or those two departments.

In the scheme of things, I don't think banning steroid use will work much better than banning other illegal drugs, particularly when there's no test for certain highly effective designer steroids. But at a time when steroid testing in sports makes headlines nearly every day and politicians insist even high school students must be tested, I can't see any serious argument for not also testing law enforcement.


Catonya said...

I touched on the pitfalls of school drug testing last week at my place.

I (personally) do not want drug testing of any kind being done by schools. It's our job as parents to parent our children. And it's the school systems job to educate our children - NOT police them.

Without a doubt, anyone who carries a weapon(gun) as part of their job, ie. law enforcement officers should be taking random drug tests on a regular basis. Like you, I've yet to hear a sensible reason why they shouldn't be tested.

Anonymous said...

I (personally) do not want drug testing of any kind being done by schools. It's our job as parents to parent our children. And it's the school systems job to educate our children - NOT police them.

The I suppose you also keep your children out of any sort of UIL activity, and have your kids go only to class and back again, never going to another function?

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was just thinking about this the other day (Cops should be tested for steroids). I have two Sergeants in my family, one of whom is HPD Narcotics division. He is a great guy and Sergeant (both family members are).

Thank you for bringing this issue into light. In every position of authority, there are individuals that will take advantage of that power or authority.

If a bust leads them to steroids, what is stopping them from using steroids if they personally want to? Who will know? They are certainly not drug tested for them.

Even without the use of steroids, police Officer's can display controversial 'power trips'. Essentially, not testing Police Officers for steroids may very well be a threat to our society.

Anonymous said...

The Houston Police Dept.drug test on a random system,I was drug tested all the time,no big deal to me.But never tested for steroids.No drugs in this body.The problem I have is with the cost of a steroids test $1000.00 for the City of Houston,this was five or more years ago.The other problem I have is the cost well be handed down to the tax payers,yes that's me and you.No Thanks

Anonymous said...

If it is so costly, then why are we spending education dollars on such testing?

I am not condoning testing of any kind. The issue arises out of the fact that school kids are being tested.

High school athletes play for free and only a small percentage go onto to play in College. (If at all)drug testing for steroids seems more appropriate in college or before they are drafted for a Pro team.

The thousands of dollars should be spent on education- books, computers, school supplies, healthy classrooms that do not leak or contain mold, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think that anyone that deals with the public in a position of authority should be drug tested. Random drug testing should be for Judges, attorneys, FBI, Police officers, etc. They are not above the law. Many of them could test possitive for recreational drugs which could cloud their judgement. I don't think school kids should be policed by the police. They have parents to do that.

Anonymous said...

The Police have nothing to do with drug test of any kind.......

Unknown said...

Drug testing is totally meaningless for any job. The last relationship to fall is the employment. The top two priorities are buying drugs and working - so you can buy the drugs. Screw the landlord, debtors, or roommates! Drug testing would be most effective for long-term loan applicants, roommates, renters, and other people who would end up owing money that would be diverted to illegal drugs. That's the ONLY reason to drug test anyone. But how many lenders and landlords drug test their tenants?

Anonymous said...

And how do we know that Mr. Johnson was really an officer? Apart from his good word, which seems tarnished by his so-called revalations. How do we know it's not some cop hating ex-convict seeking to make a buck?

Anonymous said...

Without discussing the constitutional or big brother implications of drug testing, the question asked is why test HS Athletes, but not police officers.

The answer is two-fold: (1) We have not identified a sterioid problem for police officers, but we may have for athletes in general; and (2) there is already an institutional disincentive for a Police officer to use illegal steroids ("You're Fired"), but little institutional disincentive for a High School athlete.

In other words, the mere thought that it may or may not be "fair" in the etheral sense to test "kids, but not cops" really does not matter.

Those in favor of testing high school athletes assert that there is a current perception among H.S. athletes that the "other kids cheat" and if I do not cheat too, I will lose the game and the scholarship.

Whether this perception really exists or not I do not know. However, if it is true, then there is an incentive pushing the "honest kids" towards the dangers of illegal steroid use.

Whether the answer to this danger is testing remains a subject for reasoned debate.

However, asserting that if one group with an identified problem should be tested that other groups without an identified problem should also be tested is a red herring.

As an aside, I was in the military and was tested randomly for the usual list of illegal drugs, but never for steroids.

Anonymous said...

As a follow-up, the links in the article show that to a certain extent there are cops on steroids (just as I assume there are also doctors, lawyers and teachers, etc...).

Part of the reasoned debate may include showing that the problem is as bad or worse in police departments (All the SWAT guys want to be bulked, etc...).

But, I think the current public perception is that the there is higher degree of peer pressure among HS Athletes than is acceptable.

Whether this is true or not, and if it is whether drug testing is the answer, are policy matters that does not necessarily need to be linked to police officers.

Anonymous said...

Are we supposed to think Police are not subject to peer pressure?

Are we supposed to think it is alright for Police to use drugs?

In considering where scarce money should be spent, public safety trumps the results of a game.

Peer pressure on High School athletes can be reduced by a cultural change. Coaches and communities need to back off the win at all cost mentality. The cost of promoting teamwork and a fair contest is free.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think those on this string who think cops shouldn't be tested are really underestimating the problem of steroid use among police. E.g., ABC News recently reported:

"From Boston to Arizona, police departments are investigating a growing number of incidents involving uniformed police officers using steroids. So-called "juicing" has been anecdotally associated with several brutality cases, including the 1997 sodomizing of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in New York City."

If that's true, it's a bigger problem than steroids in HS athletics by a longshot, not to mention participation in black markets by police invites corruption, like the officers described in the book who allegedly informed their dealer in Houston about pending steroid busts.

As to why I think "David Johnson" is who he says he is, a reporter interviewed him and published a picture of his partially concealed badge, plus he gives a lot of detail about the application process, psych tests, the academy, etc., that very few people besides cops would know or think to give. I could be wrong, but I don't think he's lying about that, though parts of the book are purely aggrandizing. He might be a phony, but given all these other stories out there, he also might just be telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

Interesting ... I just do not think most persons percieve this as a problem in their local police department. Perception is not necesarily reality.

If it is a big problem in the police community, it certainly can be addressed.

Of course, the legal analysis between a student in an extra-curricular event is somewhat different than for a civil servant. And, there is also a big legal difference between a uniformed civil servant and a non-uniformed one.

Which is not to say that it is impossible for either the athlete or the civil servant.

But I would think the testing program for each community, if it is ultimately found needed by the appropriate body, would look much different.

Curiously, aside from the fact that HS athletics drug testing is a popular idea in the media and society today following the death of a Texas HS athlete, why should these issues be linked?

Anonymous said...

About 2 million pounds of marijuana sized in a year works out to be a loss of supply of 2 ounces per user per year assuming that 5% of the US population are users. Is that a problem?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"why should these issues be linked?"

Because I think the problem of steroid abuse among police poses more a significant public safety threat than likely minimalist use HS athletes.

If you believe "roid rage" occurs that creates one set of problems, both for the officer and any potential victim of excessive violence. But after reading this book, I realize that participation in the black market exposes police to corruption that can easily effect what they do on the job, so to me it's an anti-corruption measure as well as a health and safety one.

As for the link, mostly it's that I just finished the book, saw this story, and thought to myself, "Damn, if you're going to test anybody it ought to be the cops, not HS football players." best,

Anonymous said...

Obviously the book had a big impact on you. Avenues for corruption need to be under the microscope.

Sorry to rain on your parade, your point was valid, even if I did not get your comparison.

The entire issue raises the interesting public policy question as to why some issues become a huge public outcry, and others are ignored.

Hundreds of people die from negligence on roadways everyday, but a single plane crash brings the nation to a standstill even though less people are effected.

Reports for years say that our bridges are falling, but a massive collapse springs people to action.

I really appreciate your website and would not want you to hold your fire when you have an important idea.

Anonymous said...

There are steroid awareness programs that go around to schools. The 'results' of steroid use, especially at that age, were made clear, and I'd like to think that this would be the last thing that high school guys would want to be worrying about.

Also, if parents suspect possible steroid use in their own child, then they can choose to have them drug tested.

Steroid use is common issue in professional sports since they often involve prestigious awards, financial benefits, or honorary claims based an athlete's ability to perform.

The notion that steroid does not exist among Police is false. There are plenty of stories, claims, witnesses, as well as personal accounts of steroid use among police.

When comparing steroid drug testing between professional athletes and public law enforcement, the notion of fair competition among individuals competing for a 'prize', divides the two.

Unless police officers are competing in regards to the number of people they tackle, tazer, shoot, or attack, then the issue of steroid testing may have easily been overlooked or underrated.

With professional athletes, the security of a fair playing field is crucial. This ensures an honest display of one's physical abilities.

Examine the defined or intended role of a police officer within a community (of course they vary). What are they there to do? Are they being rewarded for being physically stronger than the next officer? What is the incentive to use steroids?...(money, position, personal satisfaction, addiction, ego, reputation?)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Socrates, I don't know that the book had a big "impact" on me - I just read it and wrote a book review, which naturally entails drawing public policy conclusions from the case study. Having seen numerous police steroid cases crop up in recent years (since I watch the issue more closely than "the public"), I felt pretty confident making such a recommendation.

The Oklahoma case linked in the post was the real high-impact eye-opener for me. Afterwards I started to pay attention to bulked up cops I saw in Austin and around the state, looking for telltale signs like a bulging jaw (you eat more, so work your jaw muscles and they enlarge abnormally like everything else), and came to the subjective conclusion from those observations that a higher percentage of officers are "juicing" than I'd previously realized.

Anyway, from a public policy perspective it's a no-brainer: Comparing the two possible policies, both expensive - many more tests for HS athletes, or fewer tests for cops - the benefit to cost ratio for testing cops is much higher if it reduces corruption among public servants. That's a lot more important than the integrity of a teenage athletic competition. In other words, you get more public safety bang from the taxpayers buck testing cops than you do HS athletes. best,

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt, anyone who carries a weapon(gun) as part of their job, ie. law enforcement officers should be taking random drug tests on a regular basis. Like you, I've yet to hear a sensible reason why they shouldn't be tested.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I've yet to hear a sensible reason why they shouldn't be tested.