August 8, 1991
After all, a San Diego police officer had been fired in the past year for accepting steroid prescriptions in bulk from a doctor, one of only two drug-related dismissals in the past six years. And two National City police officers resigned rather than be fired for obtaining prescriptions from the same doctor.
Police officers say steroid testing was simply overlooked during contract negotiations with the city. Higher-level police administrators, noting that prolonged use of the drug can lead to over-aggressive and even hostile behavior, say they want steroids included when the contract is renewed in two years.
"There's an illicit market out there, and a 'roid rage that has people who succumb to the drug losing control," Assistant Chief Bob Thorburn said.
"We can't have police officers who are subject to that. We need them to be level-headed." Under the new two-year union contract, approved in July, San Diego police officers cannot have barbiturates, methamphetamines, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana or various other drugs in their systems at the time they are tested, but they will not routinely be examined for steroids.
Steroids, the synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone, are often used by athletes and others to improve muscle tone. The drug has some unintended side effects, such as baldness, liver damage, acne and breast development in men, and its use is illegal without a prescription. Earlier this year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced crackdowns on physicians, pharmacists and professional athletes under a new law that reclassifies the drug as an illegal "controlled substance."
As part of the new law, possession of the drug without a prescription would constitute a federal crime, resulting in a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine. Use of steroids by people in law enforcement has increasingly attracted attention. In Santa Clara County, for example, jail officials are investigating the possibility that a dozen current or former corrections officers may have illegally sold or used the drug. Investigators who are reviewing allegations of brutality against inmates in Santa Clara County jails say that overt aggression resulting from steroids use may have something to do with the problem. Interviewed this week about the drug, San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen said he wants the department's drug-testing policy to include steroids the next time it is negotiated.
"We have to address it because it's a problem among certain people--not among police officers but among other people," he said. "We have to let the public know that we are free of all drugs."
Last September, the police union agreed that about 140 officers who work in the so-called "high-risk" areas of drug enforcement--criminal intelligence, gangs, internal affairs, vice and other units--do the same. The union agreed in May to mandatory random drug testing for all 1,850 employees.
Under the system that affects everyone, all officers are to be tested twice within an 18-month period. Each officer is to be notified of the test four hours before his or her shift begins. Lab technicians will take two samples: one for the officer and one for the department, which will send its sample to a nationally recognized testing lab. If the officer tests positive for drugs, he or she can have the other sample tested on his or her own to challenge the department's findings.
Although there is no routine testing for steroid use, police officials say that any officer who is suspected of being on any drug can still be ordered to take a narcotics test. If an officer is found to be using steroids without a prescription, he can be subject to discipline, including firing.
Thorburn said he would prefer to have the department make regular steroid checks, but the technology to perform such tests does not exist in San Diego. In the one case involving a San Diego police officer, Thorburn said, the sample had to be tested in Los Angeles.
Harry O. Eastus, president of the Police Officers Assn., said the issue of steroids won't be revisited for two years. "The contract is a done deal and it doesn't include steroids," said Eastus, whose group negotiated the agreement with the city. "Some people take steroid shots for their knees and ankles. You can get it under prescription, so what's the problem?"
Former POA President Steve McMillan said he believes police should test for the drug. "Steroids should have been included," he said. "That way, it doesn't open the department up to any problems. Why exclude someone and leave anything open to question?" The San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department do not test for steroids.
City Manager Jack McGrory said that, before the San Diego Police Department could begin testing for steroids, it would have to look at the costs. "Only a limited number of labs can test for steroids," he said. "We will continue to test when we have a reasonable suspicion that it's a problem."