Police Department to Start Routinely Testing Officers for Steroid Use
By AL BAKER
Published: April 10, 2008
For many New York City police officers, a trip to the gym or the station house weight room is as much a part of the day as roll call or making notes in a memo book.
Officers pump iron in New York, as they do around the nation. And sometimes, they pump more than that.
Prompted by an investigation into a Brooklyn pharmacy that revealed several officers were steroid customers, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly decided last month to add steroids to the list of substances police officers are tested for, beginning sometime after July 1, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.
Under the new policy, reported on Wednesday in The New York Post, officers would be tested on entering the Police Academy and again when their probationary period ended after two years. Steroids would be added to the list of substances for which officers can be randomly tested.
Currently, tests are given only when an officer is suspected of using steroids.
There is $1 million earmarked in the city budget proposal for the program for the coming fiscal year, Mr. Browne said.
“Being a cop is a job that requires considerable strength and agility,” said one police union official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “If you’re going to be wrestling some guy on angel dust, you want to be in shape. That is not in defense of steroids, or human growth hormones, it’s just why cops need to be physically fit.”
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.
“We test for steroids on a pre-employment basis,” said Officer James Kenneally, a spokesman for the Boston Police Department, who said the policy was put in place there in recent years. He said that the department, so far, was not testing randomly for steroids.
Albert W. O’Leary, the chief spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of New York City, declined to comment on the new policy.
In the past, it has been how the department has moved to conduct certain types of drug testing — rather than the type of substances for which it tests — that the union has argued is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.
Mr. Browne said that urinalysis would be used to test for steroid use, which is the method used to test for marijuana, cocaine, opiates and other drugs.