Friday, April 11, 2008

NYPD becomes largest US department to require random steroid testing

Having posed the question last year whether it's more important to test police officers for steroids or high school athletes (Texas chose the high schoolers), I was interested to learn that the New York City police department will be adding steroids to its drug testing regimen.

The NYPD steroid scandal caught my attention earlier via an odd forensic twist that still doesn't sit right with me. The pharmacist/informant in the case who ultimately helped finger all these steroid using officers was found shot to death in January. His case was ruled a suicide, despite "gunshot wounds to the chest and head." Maybe it's possible, but I continue have trouble imagining the suicide sequence that results in shots to the "chest and head." I guess if you're a REALLY bad shot ...

In any event, the case where the pharmacist would have testified may still result in several officer terminations, but no prosecutions, reports the New York Times ("Police department to start routinely testing officers for steroid use," April 10). One hopes, though, that the new testing regimen will generate some good out of the tragedy:

As investigators looked into the dealings at the Brooklyn pharmacy, Lowen’s, an old-fashioned neighborhood drugstore in Bay Ridge, they said it had expanded into major transactions of steroids and growth hormone.

The investigation into Lowen’s uncovered 19 officers who had been prescribed steroids, police officials said. That investigation was part of a larger inquiry into the illegal underground steroid industry. Steroid scandals have touched the sports and entertainment industries, exposing vast distribution networks for the illicit bodybuilding drugs.

Of the officers implicated in the Lowen’s raid, six tested positive for steroid use, Mr. Browne said. Five of them have been suspended without pay and are facing departmental trials that could lead to their dismissal, he said. The sixth was put on modified duty.

While steroids may not be perceived as being as dangerous as recreational narcotics, Mr. Browne said they are just as problematic for officers who do not have proof of their medical necessity.

An internal memo was sent to all police commands on March 26 warning that using steroids for “bodybuilding and/or body enhancement” is not a legitimate medical use. “The demand for anabolic steroids caused by their continued use in bodybuilding and body enhancement activities creates an illegal market for these substances that is supported through organized crime,” the memo said.

It said that steroid use can seriously impair a person’s health.

The memo reflects the growing concern — among law enforcement agencies and the public — about the use of steroids and human growth hormones, particularly by athletes.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s oldest and largest group of law enforcement executives, published a policy review about steroid use among officers in 2005, said Wendy Balazik, a spokeswoman for the association.

Police officials in other cities said steroids was a topical issue.

While firing them is a big deal, after recent prosecutions of athletes, I notice that authorities don't plan to pursue perjury charges against officers who earlier misled investigators. I think that's the right decision, actually, I just wish it were applied equally by the feds when the defendant is capable of drawing a large number of television cameras.

Let's face it, not even baseball fans seem to care if professional athletes juice. "Steroids Era" or not, major league baseball continues to set attendance and profit records, and the sport is more popular than ever.

But so long as steroids are illegal, everyone should care if police officers juice. It's not just the possibility of affecting their behavior and judgment (so-called "roid rage"), but because officers must engage in black market activities and expose themselves to implicitly corrupting influences in order to obtain the illegal drugs.

Every officer who uses steroids or other illegal drugs is a potential blackmail target waiting to happen. Such a scenario inherently invites corruption, placing the officer's career future in the hands of a criminal who could easily demand favors or threaten to rat.

If I had my druthers, the 81st Texas Legislature would take all the money its wasting testing high school athletes for steroids and create a grant program for police departments that want to do so. In New York, at least they seem to have their priorities straight about which group is more important to test first.

No comments: