Mark Harris on Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Polygraph Screening

Mark Harris (Twitter profile)

Wired has published a major investigative article on law enforcement’s use of pre-employment polygraph screening. In The Lie Generator: Inside the Black Mirror World of Polygraph Job Screenings, science/technology writer Mark Harris (@meharris on Twitter) reports based on, among other sources, data gleaned from numerous public record access law requests filed with police and sheriff’s departments across the United States. Excerpt:

Data obtained by WIRED showed vast differences in the outcomes of polygraph tests depending on the examiner each candidate faced. Consider another law enforcement agency that uses polygraphs in its employment process: the Washington State Patrol (WSP). Between late October 2011 and the end of April 2017, the WSP conducted 5,746 polygraph tests on potential recruits. This was the largest data set WIRED received, including copious data on both applicants and examiners. While one examiner failed less than 20 percent of candidates, others failed more than half the applicants they screened. And while two examiners disqualified just four people in more than 1,000 applicants for supposedly having sex with animals, one of their colleagues failed more than 10 times as many for bestiality—around one in 20 of all job seekers. The same examiner was also twice as likely as the rest of his peers to fail applicants on the grounds of child pornography.

There were no further hearings trials for these supposed crimes, and no jury to convince or judge to adjudicate, just scores of otherwise qualified applicants who would now not become Washington state troopers.

“We don’t know which, if any, of the examiners are accurate, but the disparity between them suggests the test is not being used in a way that is at all reliable,” says John Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. And tests that are not reliable, Allen says, cannot be valid.

Harris’ article is too important for any summary posted here to do it justice. Go read it in its entirety.

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