“Bay Area Officers Turn to Voice Analyzer”

Sean Webby of the San Jose Mercury News reports. Excerpt:

Bay Area police departments are snatching up one of the latest technological tools in crime-solving — a computerized voice analyzer that’s supposed to determine when the bad guy is telling a lie, just by the sound of his voice.

But critics say this $10,000 device doesn’t work; it only intimidates suspects into confessions.

Police departments in San Jose, San Francisco, Menlo Park, Mountain View and Redwood City are among about 1,000 agencies that use “voice stress analyzers.” The California Highway Patrol uses the machine when hiring officers.

Law enforcement agencies have only one place to buy the controversial devices and train their officers at $1,300 per student — the National Institute for Truth Verification, a private company in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Yet many law enforcement agencies refuse to use the analyzers, including the FBI and both the San Mateo County and Santa Clara County sheriff’s departments.

Several police chiefs and other senior investigators in departments who bought the voice analyzers said privately they doubted that the device measured the truth very well. But all said it did what they had bought it to do — elicit confessions from suspects who are convinced the machines work.

“It’s a marketing scam,” said Sgt. Gary Hoss, who is the chief polygrapher for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s fast and it’s cheap and it doesn’t work, and that’s the bottom line.”

Hoss and others predict these voice analyzers will put innocent people in jail and expose police departments who use them to massive lawsuits.

Yet NITV says its product is more powerful at detecting a criminal’s deception than polygraph tests.

“It can’t get much more accurate,” said David Hughes, the company’s director and a retired captain from the West Palm Beach, Fla., police department. NITV reports that its analyzer has about a 98 percent accuracy rate.

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