Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is fighting a statewide effort to punish law enforcement officials caught abusing anabolic steroids.
Police officers caught using muscle-building drugs without a valid medical reason would be banned from working the streets under a proposal being considered by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
"I'm really concerned we're going down a rat hole we're never going to climb out of again," Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, said during a recent meeting with the board, which certifies all police officers in the state.
Hendershott, who is second in command at the sheriff's office, said the new rule would open the door to a string of lawsuits filed by officers and deputies claiming they were wrongly fired or disciplined.
"Frankly, I've been sued enough," he said during the Jan. 23 meeting of the board's Rules Advisory Committee.
Both Arpaio and Hendershott refused to comment Friday on the office's resistance to the proposal, which has broad support from other law enforcement agencies across the state.
While technical concerns have been raised by other agencies, only the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has stated its opposition publicly. Deputy Doug Matteson said it was still early in the rule-making process and they will continue working with the board, also known as POST.
POST will take up the issue again at its next rules committee meeting, scheduled for March 18 in Rio Rico.
Law enforcement agencies already have the power to fire officers who have obtained anabolic steroids illegally. However, agencies are raising questions about what to do with officers who have obtained such drugs using methods described as "quasi-legal."
Lyle Mann, the deputy director for POST, said there are legally ambiguous cases in which police officers order steroids from Web sites or lie to their doctors to get a prescription.
"What we are proposing is: An officer can't perform their duties with anabolic steroids in their system," Mann said.
The proposal would effectively end the career of an officer caught using steroids unless that officer could show a valid medical reason for using the drug, he said.
However, experts on the issue have testified before POST that there are very few medical conditions that require anabolic steroids. Some include HIV-AIDS and certain types of cancer. And in those cases, Mann said, those officers would be too sick to work anyway.
In recent years, the use of anabolic steroids by police officers has attracted more attention because of fears the drugs could cloud their judgment or lead to overly aggressive behavior associated with steroid use.
Last summer, the Chandler Police Department began investigating accusations that three officers had used the drugs. The Mesa Police Department is also investigating claims that one of its officers used steroids. All four cases are still pending.
There are no uniform standards by police departments in Arizona when it comes to testing for steroids. For example, Phoenix and Mesa test their officers, while Chandler does not.
Maricopa County sheriff's officials told the Tribune they did not know whether their deputies are ever tested for the drugs.
Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said the issue should be dealt with aggressively.
“Steroid use is something that should concern everyone,” he said. “Certainly we’re concerned about any drug that has been scientifically shown to lead to drastic mood swings.”