Without seeking bids, Los Angeles hired an East Coast security firm — at double the going rate — to perform lie detector tests on LAPD recruits to speed the hiring of new police officers, the Daily News has learned.
The firm, found through a brochure, has no polygraph examiners of its own and is hiring local lie detector experts who work for about half the fee it is charging the city.
With few questions asked, the City Council approved the $615,000, six-month contract last week, as well as up to $62,000 in travel reimbursements that would have been unnecessary if local examiners were hired directly.
The money for the contract comes from an unexpended fund originally intended to provide each officer who completes the Police Academy with a $2,000 signing bonus, a recruitment incentive city officials said isn’t effective.
The firm, U.S. Investigation Services Inc. of Vienna, Va., is being paid about $395 a polygraph, even though the local rate is about $200.
“I don’t understand how they could use such a stupid system to get an important service,” said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “It seems like a system fraught with potential fraud and one almost guaranteed that you’ll pay a very high price, because you’re not exposing it to competition.”
Edward Gelb, past president of the American Polygraph Association and head of a company that does lie detector work for six local police agencies, called the contract a “sweetheart deal.”
City officials who negotiated the deal defended it as a badly needed stopgap after they were caught unprepared for a surge in recruitment that’s approached all-time highs for the decade. Since the Rampart Division anti-gang unit corruption scandal, those recruits are required to take lie detector tests.
Capt. Paul Enox, commanding officer for the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division, said the department wasn’t able to hire enough skilled polygraph examiners or train others to meet the demand immediately. He said discussions with the Sheriff’s Department encountered bureaucratic obstacles.
To respond to the backlog, Enox said he made it “very clear” to the city’s personnel officials they would have to find outside resources to catch up, noting some recruits were being made to wait a couple of months to take the exams.
“The backlog was big and growing bigger, and recruitment is one of the highest priorities for city government,” Enox said. “Personnel was scrambling to find a way to address the backlog quickly and efficiently.”
Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, said she knew about U.S. Investigation Services and had obtained a brochure describing their services.
Lynes said she contacted them, and asked whether they could provide the polygraph service as the number of backlogged LAPD tests was approaching 600.
Lynes said she remembers grilling the company about its prices, but said she couldn’t recall how its officials justified the $395 per exam figure, except that quality control services were included.
Gelb, the past president of the American Polygraph Association, said he was “astonished” that as one of the more prominent experts in the field, he was not contacted.
Since U.S. Investigation Services has been hired, the polygraph backlog has dropped from about 600 to 180, Lynes said.
“The other alternative was not to staff the Police Department, and that’s not an acceptable alternative,” she said.