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There are lots of reasons many police officers have traditionally been accused of brutalizing people.  Racism plays a role in far too many cases as the Rodney King incident made clear.  

Police are exposes to high levels of fear that comes with constant exposure to dangerous and unsavory characters.  How many people you know who spend all day dealing with drug dealers, gang members, thieves, junkies, con artists, prostitutes, wife beaters, etc?  I worked with emotionally disturbed adolescents, many of whom where violent on occasion.  I saw many of my fellow workers who "burned out" after a while.  It's not surprising to me the many police may become numb and traumatized as a result of their work.  I imagine the incidences of PTSD and depression, anxiety disorders, etc. is quite high among law enforcement officials, particularly those who work in major cities.

Then there is the fact that many police officers are drawn to the job because of the appeal that having power and authority over others provides them.  In short, bullies and individuals with anger management issues.  Indeed, there are many documented cases of "violent" cops getting fired by one jurisdiction managing to find another job in law enforcement somewhere else.  

However, one of the biggest problems with the recent spate of police brutality and "excessive force cases is the all too infrequently discussed case of drug abuse by police officers.  Drug abuse?  Yes, and the drugs that police are abusing are anabolic steroids according to the DEA:

The badge and a steroid-filled syringe -- it's not the typical image most have for the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. But as more within law enforcement get nabbed in steroid investigations nationwide, observers say that usage levels among police officers could rival the seediest patches of the pro sports landscape.

"It's a big problem, and from the number of cases, it's something we shouldn't ignore," Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Lawrence Payne told AOL News. "It's not that we set out to target cops, but when we're in the middle of an active investigation into steroids, there have been quite a few cases that have led back to police officers."

Regrettably this is a drug that we, as a county all to often ignore.  We have fierce debates over marijuana usage, the legal penalties for crack cocaine versus powdered cocaine, prescription medication abuse, and methapmphe4tamines, but we rarely discuss steroids outside of the world of sports.  Yet athletes on your local sports teams may abuse steroids far less than another group of professionals: Cops.

Victor Conte, founder of the now-defunct lab known as Bay Area Lab Co-Operative that supplied numerous athletes [i.e., most prominently Barry Bonds]with steroids 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.

You think that's high?  Well read this story regarding an investigation of steroid abuse by police officers in New Jersey where 248 police and firefighters have been tied to the receipt of steroids and other similar drugs from just one physician.

On a rainy August morning in 2007, the news rippled through New Jersey’s law enforcement ranks, officer to officer, department to department.

Joseph Colao was dead.

The 45-year-old physician had collapsed in his Jersey City apartment, the victim of heart failure. [...]

A seven-month Star-Ledger investigation drawing on prescription records, court documents and detailed interviews with the physician’s employees shows Colao ran a thriving illegal drug enterprise that supplied anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters throughout New Jersey.

Read the whole story, and then remind yourself that this was just one doctor in one small region of New Jersey.  And what is one result of steroid use?  A phenomenon known as "Roid Rage."

When people use anabolic steroids, a dangerous practice for many reasons, they are essentially placing extra levels of testosterone in their bodies. This hormone can at first have positive effects on the psyche, which later turn negative. Steroid users at first may equate steroid use with feeling well, unconquerable or very happy. Continued use of steroids may result in much greater mood and behavior change. People may become more aggressive, more hostile, or they may manifest symptoms of various forms of mental illness, like schizophrenia, mania, and deep depression. Anabolic steroid use is linked not only to roid rage and sudden mood changes, but also to a higher incidence of suicide than in the general populace.

And guess what is correlated with anabolic steroid use by those cops in New Jersey?  If you guessed increased incidents of excessive force, you would be  correct.

Joseph Santiago, a former police director in Trenton, N.J., told The Star-Ledger that Trenton had a "significant amount" of excessive force complaints.

"When you looked at these records, you start to see where there might be a correlation," Santiago told the newspaper. "Is it absolutely clear? No. Would a complaint have been there regardless of steroids? Those are issues that need to be addressed."

Mr. Santiago, it is being addressed, thanks to numerous excessive force lawsuits and a six month investigation by the office of NJ Attorney General, Paula Dow:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey on Thursday unveiled reforms to crack down on steroid abuse by police, including random drug testing.

The new rules follow lawsuits claiming excessive force by officers in the throes of steroid rage filed against New Jersey police, according to a report released by New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow.

The report was the result of a six-month investigation into allegations that a doctor illegally supplied police and firefighters with anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and other muscle-building drugs. Dr. Joseph Colao, now deceased, may have illegally prescribed steroids to 248 public safety officials, mostly police and firefighters, the report concluded.

"It is important that we strengthen oversight, regulation and investigation in order to discourage the improper use of steroids throughout New Jersey's law enforcement community and ensure the public's confidence," Dow said in a statement.

And if you think this is a problem that is limited to New jersey, don't kid yourself.  The New Jersey investigation just shows how widespread and insidious steroid use among cops all across the country has become over the last few decades.  Here are just a few stories from the past several years documenting the problem:

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.


As the rhetoric by local politicians heats up over the use of unnecessary and excessive force by Seattle Police Department officers, elected officials have still failed to come forward with a specific, concrete proposal to reform the department. That’s unfortunate. The SPD is desperately in need of reform, and now—with the police union in the middle of labor negotiations and the public crying out for changes—is the ideal time to make it happen.

We need to take advantage of this opportunity. In light of the lack of ideas coming from our elected representatives, I think it’s time to present some. Here’s one to start: Do random drug tests for use of steroids, testosterone and HCG (an artificial form of testosterone) . The violent actions of officers that have recently been at issue in Seattle could point to steroid use.


[T]op law enforcement brass around the country are learning that the implications of a police force on steroids are far more frightening, Phoenix police Cmdr. Kim Humphrey said.

Humphrey talked about the trend yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 11) at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in downtown San Diego.

He said steroid abuse has seeped into police agencies nationwide, but few departments test their officers for the drug.

Aggressive outbursts, excessive use of force, poor judgment and serious health problems have been associated with steroid abuse among officers. Not to mention the fact that the drug is illegal. [...]

"It's going on everywhere," said Humphrey, who has advised about a dozen police agencies on the matter. Testing officers for the drug, he said, is "an issue that needs to gain momentum."

Why was Kelly Thomas of Fullerton beaten to death by police officers?  We may never know the whole story, but I suspect that a number of those cops involved in that case were steroid abusers.  Let's hope the truth comes out at trial.

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