Big Guns: When Cops Use Steroids

Robert Cissna, a police officer in Burlingame, Calif., pleaded no contest to possession of steroids in 2002. He has since been reinstated as a police officer.

The full extent of the problem remains unknown -- most police officers and department spokespersons are reluctant to discuss any internal affairs involving police officers using steroids or other drugs.

Aggressive Behavior and Loaded Guns

There is a scientific explanation for the violent behavior exhibited by steroid abusers, says Linn Goldberg, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and an expert on steroid abuse.

"Your dopamine receptors are changed," he said, referring to the chemical in the brain that transmits nerve signals. "They help guard against a lack of impulse control."

Steroid abusers lack the same level of control that non-users have. "They have uncontrolled aggressive feelings. Their judgment is impaired," Goldberg said.

"The problem with steroids is that they make you feel you are invulnerable, so you become more aggressive and you're more likely to use aggression as well," he added.

Other side effects of steroid abuse include depression, mania, suicide risks, erratic mood swings, shrunken testicles, cancerous tumors, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and stunted growth.

But the fact that violent mood swings can occur among police officers who carry a gun concerns many, including Goldberg. "It's very scary to me," he said.

Fear Factor and the Police

Gene Sanders, a police psychologist in Spokane, Wash., has worked extensively with police officers who are steroid abusers.

"If I were going to be conservative, I'd say that probably five percent of everyone who walks in my door either is using or has used steroids. This is getting to be a major problem," Sanders said.

"As a police psychologist, I can understand why it happens -- it's essentially a fear issue," said Sanders.

"And having been a sniper on a SWAT team, I can understand that level of fear," he said.

'When I Started to Use Anabolic Steroids'

It was fear that prompted rookie officer Chris Holden to begin using steroids.

Shortly after joining the police force in Norman, Okla., an Oklahoma highway patrolman was shot and killed. The slaying occurred during a fight in which the killer wrestled the patrolman's gun away from him.

"I wanted to do everything I could to prevent this from happening to me," Holden stated in a letter he published in a local newspaper. "At the end of March 2004 I was a police officer patrolling the streets solo, and that is when I started to use anabolic steroids."

An investigation into steroid abuse, led by the DEA, netted Holden, three other Norman police officers, and a state highway patrolman. All five lost their jobs following the investigation.

Holden failed to return several calls requesting an interview, and many of Holden's former colleagues have taken a dim view of his actions.

"One interesting effect of him writing that letter is he alienated the entire department when he wrote that letter [to the local newspaper]," said Lt. Tom Easley, spokesman for the Norman Police Dept.

"Most of these guys and women who are out there on the force took his letter as evidence of cowardice and some kind of inadequacy in himself," Easley said.

"When you have 130 authorized police officers and you lose four of them, it hurts from a manpower standpoint and it hurts from a morale standpoint," said Easley.

But like many other police spokespeople around the country, Easley acknowledges that a handful of arrests will not end the nationwide problem of steroid abuse by cops.

Referring to the four Norman police officers who lost their jobs, he said, "It's not an isolated incident."

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