Speaking in unusually blunt terms for a senior law enforcement official, El Paso, Texas chief of police Greg Allen has decried the polygraph as a “piece of junk,” while El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association president Bobby Holguin has pronounced it “garbage.” Adriana M. Chávez reports for the El Paso Times:
EL PASO — The El Paso Police Department has dropped the use of polygraph exams — commonly known as lie detector tests — on police officers during internal investigations because the results were considered useless.
Until several months ago, the exams were used when complaints were filed against officers.
Police Chief Greg Allen, who was appointed police chief in late March, called the exams a “piece of junk” and the president of the police union said they are “garbage.”
In August, the El Paso City Council approved a new contract with the El Paso Municipal Officers Association that made it possible for an officer to request an independent polygraph examiner to administer the test, instead of one employed by the department, if the chief requests a polygraph test.
But the new administration of Chief Allen simply decided to not use them even though they are still an option.
Criminal suspects also have the option of taking a polygraph test, said police spokesman Officer Chris Mears.
The Police Department has three police officers who are certified to administer polygraph tests.
Both Allen and El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association President Robert “Bobby” Holguin said they have issues with the accuracy of polygraph tests.
Allen and Holguin are in good company. The consensus view among scientists is that polygraphy has no scientific basis.
“I don’t like intimidating people. I don’t like the threatening attitude of the machine,” Allen said. “It’s a good tool if you want to scare someone to tell the truth, but often the truth comes to the surface anyway.”
Allen recalled an investigation of an officer whose polygraph results were interpreted differently by three polygraph examiners.”One said the officer was telling the truth, another said the test was inconclusive, and another said the officer was lying,” Allen said. “The polygraph has become the deciding factor when it’s not supposed to be.”
Indeed, there is little difference, in practical terms, between the urban legendary colander wired to a photocopier and the “real” lie detector, as pointed out in AntiPolygraph.org’s short video, “Of Colanders and Lie Detectors”:
Former police Chief Richard Wiles said in the four years he was chief, he requested officers undergo polygraph testing about 12 times.
“There needs to be an understanding that the vast majority of those in the Police Department are good people doing the right thing, but you get people from time to time who don’t belong there,” Wiles said. The polygraph “is not the cure all. It’s not 100 percent, but it helps get to the truth of the matter.”
Indeed, the polygraph can help to get to the truth of the matter when a naive and gullible offender can be convinced that the polygraph can actually detect deception. But polygraphy is inherently biased against the truthful, and false accusations of deception are common. See AntiPolygraph.org’s Personal Statements page for examples.
Holguin called the polygraph “a piece of garbage” and bashed its accuracy and inadmissability in state and federal courts.
“If it was an exact art, I’d be all for it, but it’s not even close to an exact art,” Holguin said. “If an officer’s done wrong, we’re all for the officer being treated accordingly. At the same time, we don’t want this to affect officers who are not doing anything wrong.”
Holguin’s criticism of the polygraph is spot-on. Opposition to polygraphy doesn’t mean being soft on corruption. It means being clear eyed about the reality that the lie detector is bogus. Make believe science yields make believe security.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office currently uses polygraphs during internal investigations, something Wiles said he plans to continue if he wins in Tuesday’s election.
However, Republican sheriff candidate George Rodriguez Stoltz said he doesn’t plan to ask deputies to submit to such testing.
“I have full faith in investigators who are highly trained,” Stoltz said. “Forensic evidence always outweighs the polygraph.”
Stoltz is right, and Wiles should learn from the El Paso Police Department’s example.
While the Police Department dropped the use of lie detector tests, the FBI still relies on them.
And in a unique twist, a California motorcycle gang used them recently to test prospective gang members, which included several federal undercover agents who infiltrated the group.
For discussion of this case, see ATF Agents Beat the Polygraph to Infiltrate Mongols Motorcycle Gang on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.
The FBI still counts on polygraphs in screening potential employees and for internal investigations.
“Individuals with access to certain sensitive programs or cases are polygraphed, and the polygraph is used during serious internal inquiries to resolve unexplained anomalies and ambiguities,” said Bill Carter, national FBI spokesman. “From an investigative standpoint, the FBI believes the polygraph to be a reliable and valuable investigative tool, which can be used to further investigations.”
Carter said the FBI doesn’t exclusively rely on the polygraph, instead using it as “an aid in determining whether a person has pertinent knowledge of a particular matter under investigation or inquiry.”
The FBI’s continued reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy is in direct defiance of the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that “[polygraph testing's] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”
The El Paso Police Department’s decision to end the practice of polygraphing police officers in internal investigations is a good first step. But this junk science is invalid in all situations. Pre-employment polygraph screening of police applicants should also be scrapped. There is no justification for a double standard in this regard.