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The badge and a steroid-filled syringe -- it's not the typical image most have for the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. But as more within law enforcement get nabbed in steroid investigations nationwide, observers say that usage levels among police officers could rival the seediest patches of the pro sports landscape.
"It's a big problem, and from the number of cases, it's something we shouldn't ignore," Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Lawrence Payne told AOL News. "It's not that we set out to target cops, but when we're in the middle of an active investigation into
The pace of investigations into steroid use in the police ranks has picked up in recent months:
•A former police officer in Canby, Ore., who allegedly took delivery of some steroids while on duty pleaded guilty in February to purchasing steroids.
•An officer in South Bend, Ind., pleaded no contest in March to selling steroids.
•A Cleveland police officer was sentenced to a year in prison and five years of supervised release in April after he was found guilty of illegally purchasing steroids.
•A dealer in Paw Paw, Mich., allegedly told authorities that he supplied "several police officers" with steroids, which led one Kalamazoo officer to resign in May.
A lawyer for an 84-year-old Florida man who had his neck broken in September when he was thrown to the ground sought to get the Orlando police officer involved in the incident tested for steroids. The request was denied by the department, which claimed the test would violate the officer's rights.
Testing in law enforcement -- much the way it is in professional sports -- is a touchy subject. Like pro ballplayers, officers are usually protected by unions, and drug testing is often used as a bargaining chip. A majority of departments have random testing for street drugs like coc aine and heroin, but few also test regularly for steroids.
"Obviously, we have zero tolerance for any kind of drug use," said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that has about 350,000 members spread across some 2,100 chapters. "But just like anybody else, we believe officers have a right to due process, and we want to safeguard them from any (unnecessary) investigations."
Law enforcement officials also cite the cost of testing for steroids as another reason such screenings aren't universal.