Crime

WHEN THE POLICE ARE ON THE JUICE

CHARLIE GILLIS June 16 2008
Crime

WHEN THE POLICE ARE ON THE JUICE

CHARLIE GILLIS June 16 2008

WHEN THE POLICE ARE ON THE JUICE

We expect cops to use force when necessary. But what if they’re using steroids to help?

CHARLIE GILLIS

Crime

When the going got

tough on the streets of Bramalea, Ont., help was never more than a radio call away. With 255 lb. of well-defined bulk on his six-foot, one-inch frame, Const. Roger Yeo was the sort of cop who could collar a violent drunk like the rest of us might pick up a doughnut— an order of power highly prized in patrol-level policing. Colleagues would call him to scenes “in case things got out of hand,” he testified last January at a Peel Regional Police disciplinary hearing, but his muscles had not come cheap. The 39-year-old officer had taken cycle after cycle of anabolic steroids like cypionate

and testosterone enanthate, logging hours in the gym and stacking his doses on the belief that, for a cop, “being big was better.”

Yeo wasn’t the only one in the department who thought so. From the day he joined in 2003, he said, use of performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals was discussed openly among officers in station-house change rooms, despite their status as controlled substances that are illegal to buy, sell or import. Those who didn’t use them referred to Yeo as a “juice monkey” because of his size, he added, yet they weren’t shy to summon him when trouble came calling. And it wasn’t like he was the only one doing them : “ I don’t know if it was accepted,” he shrugged, “but a lot of guys were on it, including myself.”

Yeo’s testimony, though an embarrassment to commanders in Peel, offers a rare glimpse into a burgeoning subculture in the policing

community throughout North America. Cops, like athletes, are increasingly prone to the siren call of the syringe, experts say, and like the confused league governors currently enmeshed in the sports doping scandals, their bosses are either unwilling or unable to crack down. While few hard numbers exist to quantify the problem, a handful of academics in the U.S. are pointing to surveys, media reports and anecdotal evidence suggesting abuse and trafficking has been rife among police since the mid-1980s, and they’re stepping up calls for government and senior officers to delve into it. One police psychologist in Spokane, Wash., Gene Sanders, estimates that one in four officers working in high-crime cities in that country are juicing, while the influence of weight-room culture is obvious even to the casual observer. Out are the moustaches and mirrored shades of old-time cop chic. In are bull necks, shaved heads and thighs that wouldn’t look out of place on an Olympic powerlifter.

Certainly the circumstantial evidence points to something more serious than proverbial bad apples. Yeo’s allegations come against the backdrop of a scandal involving New York City police officers caught in October acquiring large amounts of steroids and human growth hormones (HGH) through a Brooklyn pharmacy. Six were suspended from their jobs, while investigators seized an estimated US$7 million worth of illicit drugs, prompting the NYPD to introduce random steroid testing starting in July. The New York case follows similar scandals involving cops in Arizona, Houston and Miami, along with a slew of isolated cases in smaller police services throughout Middle America that have produced far less in the way of reform. “This is a greatly underestimated story,” says John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas and one of the few academics who has studied the issue. “If you’re a baseball player and you use steroids, even if you wouldn’t hurt a fly, you’re going to be hung out to dry. If you’re a cop who uses steroids, and you happen to carry a gun, you are somehow immune from scrutiny.”

Canadian cases would seem to buttress Hoberman’s argument. The disciplinary hearing in which Yeo spoke up, for example, revolved not around drugs but allegations he had been following adolescent girls around shopping malls and schools while off duty (he admitted watching girls from his car, and stopping occasionally to chat with them, but denied saying or doing anything untoward; he was found guilty two weeks ago of discreditable conduct). Yet in testimony last winter, the beleaguered officer decided to cut

loose about his doping. A former soldier, Yeo said he obtained his first supply of steroids in Budapest while on tour with the Canadian Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and continued using them when he got back home, along with others on the force. “I was kind of like a big meatball,” he said. “When I walked into a doorway, there was hardly any daylight.” Yeo believed his size actually headed off violent confrontation—“I don’t smile a lot, I’m very intimidating... very rarely did I have to get physical.” But the drugs eventually took their toll. He became irritable, his judgment lapsed and he found himself getting into arguments with the people closest to him. “You’re becoming a real asshole,” he recalled his mother telling him at one point. “I don’t

WITH STREETS GETTING ROUGHER, SOME COPS BELIEVE STEROIDS GI VE THEM AN EDGE

even like you anymore.”

His bosses appeared to feel the same way. Chief John Metcalf hastily called an internal investigation into Yeo’s allegations, but the department has been doing its best to downplay them ever since. Questions from Maclean’s, which focused on both the Yeo case and the department’s policies on drug use, went unanswered.

Still, Peel isn’t the only Canadian force where steroids have raised their head. In May 2006, Frank Boros, a city police constable in London, Ont., received a fine and a 12-month conditional sentence after it emerged that he had been selling steroids while in uniform. Last year, a Fredericton police officer was arrested in a broad-based narcotics investigation that resulted in detectives searching several gyms in Cape Breton, N.S., and seizing steroids. Perhaps the most sensational case involves Brock Graham, a former Vancouver city police officer who later joined the B.C. transit police: during the course of an investigation into the 1993 disappearance of 34-year-old Lynn Duggan, reports surfaced that Graham, the prime suspect, was a fitness fanatic who had been using steroids for years. Graham, a decorated officer, was never prosecuted for the steroid use. In October 2005, he was convicted of Duggan’s murder and received a 10-year prison sentence.

None of these cases has resulted in a systematic inquiry into police use of performance-enhancing drugs-not surprising, given how many officers sympathize with Yeo’s rationalization. “The law enforcement profession is both mentally and physically challenging,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported in a 2004 circular. “Some [officers] may believe steroids provide them a physical and psychological advantage while performing their jobs.” Atholl Malcolm, a Victoria-based psychologist who screens RCMP officers for high-pressure assignments, notes that raw power can be a better alternative than using a weapon. “Life gets rougher on

the street, and they’re criticized more and more for the use of things like tasers,” he says, “so what’s the alternative?” Factor in the macho atmosphere that persists in police departments (despite the growing representation of women) and steroid use should hardly come as a surprise, adds Philip Stenning of Keele University in Britain. “I think

it raises two questions,” says the criminologist, who spent 30 years at the University of Toronto studying police issues. “One is the involvement of officers in illegal activity. The other is, even if it weren’t illegal, do we want cops building themselves up on steroids?” The answers might not prove as pat as you might think. One officer from Suffolk County, N.Y., who spoke to Men’s Health magazine

in 2005, regarded his steroid use as a kind of public service undertaken in the interests of community safety. “Every cop should do a cycle a year,” he said. More surprising still is the number of commanders willing to accommodate that view. In the thick of Miami’s police-and-steroids scandal in the late ’80s, for example, then-chief Ken Harms actually suggested his department “make a conscious decision about whether it’s acceptable for officers to take steroids.”

This sort of logic ignores some obvious pitfalls—not least that steroids usually travel in the company of other drugs, as witnessed by the Fredericton and London cases (a raid on Boros’s home also turned up a stash of marijuana, and he had reportedly developed connections to the Hells Angels). “Basically, it’s a slippery slope,” says Larry Gaines, a criminal justice professor at California State University who wrote on the topic for the “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.” “They might start using steroids but they end using other types of drugs.” Then there’s the matter of ill effects—both physical and mental. The health impacts of steroid use are varied and poorly understood, from subcutaneous boils from injections to concern about long-term liver or kidney damage. But the literature surrounding “ ’roid rage,” is conclusive enough to view the stuff as incompatible with police work, says Malcolm. While officers aren’t exactly queueing up to confess steroid use to him, “if they did, I would have no choice but to disqualify them [from hazardous duty].” Finally, say critics, there’s the matter of public perception, as unnatural size is one more thing separating police from the constituency they serve. Since 9/11, says Stenning, the notion of cops as part of the community has been giving way to naked displays of police power that intimidate, rather than reassure, civil society. “It’s this whole idea that ‘we have to present a very forceful image that we’re ready to deal with anything that comes our way,’ ” he says. “In this context, I’m not one bit surprised police are using steroids.” That’s not to say that officers grounded in the art of negotiation and persuasion are going the way of the Colt revolver. But if every cop in the future is going to be “doing a cycle a year,” they may be a lot harder to spot. Especially if they come through the door behind someone like Roger Yeo. M