The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY - As a brand-new police officer, Chris Holden wanted to do everything he could to protect himself, especially after he heard about a highway patrolman who was shot to death in a struggle over his gun.
So he began bulking up with steroids.
Now Holden, 31, is out of work, one of four members of the Norman Police Department who were fired last fall after being accused of using or selling bodybuilding steroids.
Police officers in Mississippi, Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Colorado, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and New York have also been accused of steroid-related offenses in recent years. In many cases, they were charged with using, possessing or dealing steroids.
Steroids are attractive to some officers who know that an intimidating physique can ward off conflict or give them the upper hand in a life-or-death struggle.
"The thinking is that big is better than small, tough is better than weak," said Gene Sanders, a former police officer who has worked for nearly 15 years as a police psychologist for several agencies in California. "There is sort of an underground, unspoken tradition among several departments that I've worked with that if you really want to bulk up, this is the best way to do it."
But steroids can also lead to heart disease, liver damage and shrunken testicles, as well as uncontrolled aggression, or "roid rage," which can be especially dangerous in a law officer.
"These substances can cause depression and despondency, and here is a person who has a weapon," said Dr. Linn Goldberg, head of Oregon Health & Science University's Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine.
A former Riverdale, Ga., police officer who received a life sentence in 1995 for the slaying of a bar owner, and an Oregon jail guard who received a 20-year sentence in 1986 for kidnapping, shooting and paralyzing a woman both claimed steroid use contributed to their behavior.
Holden was an officer on the streets of Norman for barely two weeks when Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Nikky Green was shot to death on a rural road in 2003. Investigators say the killer wrestled Green's gun away from him and shot him with it.
"If I was making a traffic stop, on a disturbance call or a motorist assist, no matter what call I was going to, I thought about the trooper that was killed," Holden wrote in a letter published in The Norman Transcript in November.
"I wanted to physically prepare myself as much as I could and have the confidence to do my job," he said. "I took anabolic steroids so that I would be stronger. If I got into a fight, I felt I stood a better chance of surviving. I wanted to go home when my shift was over." Holden, three fellow members of the Norman police force and an Oklahoma highway patrolman got in trouble last fall after a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation found that a Norman bodybuilder was allegedly supplying steroids to cops. One of the Norman officers and the patrolman were arrested; the patrolman is on leave, awaiting disciplinary action. Holden was never charged with a crime.