Matthew, who asked that his name be changed for this article, had experimented with steroids in college. But it wasn't until an enraged criminal swung a crowbar at his fellow officer that he knew he had to buff up on the job.
A six-year veteran of a Pennsylvania police force patrolling an area encroached upon by urban crime, Matthew and his partner struggled for nearly seven minutes to subdue the crazed youth, who was high on PCP and had another officer in a head lock.
Soon after that close call, Matthew turned to illegal anabolic steroids for both strength and self-esteem, a decision for which he paid a heavy price. Two years later, in 2005, he was caught and forced to resign. He spent 23 days in jail.
Matthew's case is just one example in an increasing trend among urban police officers working tough beats. In New York City this week six police officers are being investigated for allegedly using illegal prescriptions to obtain anabolic steroids for bodybuilding.
According to law enforcement experts, Matthew is the prototypical steroid user — in his 30s, white and worried about competing. In Matthew's case, he was trying to stay on top of a job that constantly forced him to face younger and stronger criminals.
"I look back on that and other scuffles, and I was not nearly as tough and strong as I once was," said Matthew, now a 33-year-old single father.
"It scared me to think how easily things could go wrong," said Matthew. "I kept thinking I am only getting older, and the criminals will always be young. I was looking for an edge."
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.
Anabolic steroids are synthesized male sex hormones that promote muscle mass. When prescribed legally, medical steroids are used to treat growth problems in children, anemia and chronic infections like HIV.
Without a prescription, the use of anabolic steroids is illegal. Listed as a Schedule III substance along with morphine, opium and barbiturates, they can be just as psychologically addictive and dangerous.
Very little data are available on the number of adults who illegally use steroids, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, because most abusers end up in private doctors' offices for depression or suicidal tendencies.
A common side effect of steroid use is violent, aggressive behavior that can contribute to poor judgment and even police brutality, according to medical experts.
Gene Sanders, a Spokane, Wash., police psychologist, estimates that up to 25 percent of all police officers in urban settings with gangs and high crime use steroids — many of them defensively.
"How do I deal with people who are in better shape than me and want to kill me?" said Sanders, who worked as a street cop in Los Angeles in the 1970s and saw steroid use soar in the 1990s.
Steroid use is on the rise, and not just among weight lifters and other athletes. An estimated 2.7 percent of all high school seniors have used steroids at least once, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many of them women.
In the police community, cultural acceptance of bodybuilding and access to online suppliers make it easier for officers to obtain steroids.