LAPD Polygraph Operator Michael Ward Spins the Truth About Polygraphy

LAPD Polygraph Operator Michael Ward with Officer Roseann Adams

In a public relations video posted to Facebook on 24 April 2020, LAPD polygraph operator Michael Ward explains for applicants the special procedures in place for polygraph screening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the video is straightforward and non-controversial. However, in two segments, Ward makes false and misleading claims about polygraphy that call for comment.

In his scripted interview with LAPD recruiting officer Roseann Adams, Ward denies that nervousness in any way affects polygraph results:

Roseann Adams: So, I know a lot of candidates are nervous to take the polygraph exam. Does being nervous affect the result in any way?

Mike Ward: Aah, great question. Probably the top question that we get asked in the polygraph unit. The answer is absolutely not. My best advice to you is don’t be nervous about being nervous. Expect it. Being nervous just proves you’re normal, and it has absolutely no effect at all on your ability to successfully complete the polygraph exam. So relax.

Ward’s claim that nervousness does not in any way affect polygraph results is simply not true. If the subject is more nervous when answering the relevant questions than when answering the so-called “control” questions (answers to which are secretly expected to be untrue), then the subject is likely to fail the polygraph, whether or not she answers the relevant questions truthfully.

Second, Ward denies that any polygraph countermeasures work:

Adams: There is a lot of things on the internet on how to beat the polygraph exam, like sticking a thumbtack in your shoe. Is this true, and do any of these tactics work?

Ward: Heh heh. Well, don’t try that at home, I guess. Umm, you know, we have this saying around here for police officers that take their advice from the internet: give it a rest. Listen, there’s only two ways you can fail the polygraph exam. The first one is of course, if you lie, the test will definitely detect that. It’s what it’s designed to do. Two, if you try to manipulate or regulate your physiology during the test, you will also get a negative result.

We always ask candidates not to look for tips on how to pass a polygraph, because the internet is full, of course, of bad advice that if followed will by itself cause a candidate to fail their exam, even if they were truthful.

The examiner will give every candidate very easy and clear instructions that are easy to follow. If a candidate does not follow those instructions and instead resorts to internet gimmicks or tricks to try and beat the polygraph, they will end up, quite frankly, with an unfavorable result. The best advice is, give that countermeasures stuff a rest.

This response by Ward contains multiple untruths. While sticking a thumbtack in one’s shoe is indeed inadvisable as a countermeasure, Ward’s claim that there are only two ways to fail the polygraph—lying and manipulating one’s physiology (a euphemism for using polygraph countermeasures)—is a lie. Because polygraphy has no scientific basis, it is common for honest applicants who do nothing to manipulate their physiology to fail, and pre-employment polygraph failure rates tend to be high. Shortly after the LAPD mandated pre-employment polygraph screening in 2001, then Chief Bernard C. Parks acknowledged the failure rate to be 50%.

For examples of truthful persons who failed the LAPD polygraph despite not “manipulating their physiology,” see the following personal statements:

Ward lied in stating that the polygraph will “definitely” detect if you lie. False negatives (an untruthful person passing) do occur in polygraphy. One of the most notorious examples is CIA officer Aldrich Hazen Ames, who passed the polygraph twice while committing espionage against the United States.

Ward’s claim that “if you try to manipulate or regulate your physiology during the test, you will also get a negative result” is not necessarily true. No polygraph operator has ever demonstrated any ability to detect the kinds of countermeasures outlined in’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. Moreover, the available scientific literature supports the view that polygraph operators are unable to detect such countermeasures.

Contrary to Ward’s claim, the reason that the LAPD polygraph unit “always ask[s] candidates not to look for tips on how to pass a polygraph” is not because they don’t work, but precisely because they do. A second reason polygraph operators don’t want applicants to research polygraphy is that the procedure is entirely dependent on trickery. An educated subject ruins the trick.

Truthful applicants may wish to learn and use polygraph countermeasures to protect themselves against the high risk of a false positive outcome. The Lie Behind the Lie Detector is a good primer. For further reading on the LAPD polygraph unit’s policies and procedures, see our 2020 report, “LAPD Polygraph Policy Documents Disclosed” and the message board thread, “LAPD Polygraph Questions Disclosed.”

On a final note, polygraphy is not the only pseudoscience Michael Ward practices. The LAPD video introduces him as “Dr.” Michael Ward but doesn’t mention whether he is an M.D. or a Ph.D. In fact, he is neither. Dr. Michael Ward is a doctor of chiropractic, “a pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicine.”

The LAPD recruitment video is mirrored below:

LAPD Polygraph Policy Documents Disclosed has obtained and published two previously unavailable Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) polygraph unit policy documents.

The LAPD Polygraph Unit Examiner Reference Guide dated November 2018 and marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive” includes rules for scoring polygraph charts as well as question sequences for the various polygraph techniques used by the LAPD polygraph unit, including the Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test format used for screening applicants.

The LAPD Technical Investigation Unit Polygraph Unit Guidelines dated May 2019 detail the organization of the LAPD polygraph unit, the duties and responsibilities of its personnel, and its internal policies and procedures.

Updated Law Enforcement Polygraph Handbook

Polygraph Law Enforcement Accreditation

In 2011, reported that a consortium of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies had created a “Polygraph Law Enforcement Accreditation” (PLEA) program and had in 2010 promulgated a 65-page “Polygraph Guide for Standards and Practices,” a copy of which we obtained and published (1.9 MB PDF).

The PLEA consortium continues to function and by 2018 included the Greenville, South Carolina Police Department, the Houston Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the North Carolina Bureau of Investigations, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Virginia State Police, and a federal representative from the National Center for Credibility Assessment. has obtained a newer, 78-page copy (1 MB PDF) of the PLEA Polygraph Guide for Standards and Practices dated 25 October 2018. Like the 2010 edition, it is marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive” on each page, with an additional caveat: “Do Not Copy.” Oh well.

The 2018 edition of the guide includes three new chapters covering, respectively, the Directed Lie Comparison Test (Ch. 11), the Directed Lie Screening Test (Ch. 12), and the Concealed Information Test (Ch. 13).

New Law Enforcement Polygraph Handbook

Polygraph Law Enforcement AccreditationAs the American Polygraph Association holds its annual seminar in Austin, Texas this week, one of the topics on the agenda is a program run by a consortium of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies called “Polygraph Law Enforcement Accreditation” (PLEA). Participating agencies include the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the Houston Police Department.

The PLEA consortium, whose motto is “Semper Veritas” (truth always), has promulgated a 65-page “Polygraph Guide for Standards and Practices” that sets forth procedures and protocols to be used by participating agencies. has received a copy of this guide, each page of which is marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive Information,” and has made it available for download here (1.9 MB PDF). Chapter 10 will be of special interest to applicants for employment with agencies participating in the PLEA consortium.


LAPD Chief Bratton Says 40% of Disqualified Applicants Eliminated by Polygraph

Los Angeles Chief of Police William J. Bratton this week stated that 40% of LAPD applicants who are disqualified are eliminated because of the polygraph. Bratton spoke on the 17 April 2006 installment of 89.3 KPCC radio’s Patt Morrison show, which features a regular “Ask the Chief” session in which Chief Bratton addresses questions by host Patt Morrison as well as members of the public who call in. One topic addressed was the LAPD’s recruiting difficulties (Hat tip to Kevin Roderick who mentioned this in his LA Observed blog):

Patt Morrison: A propos of recruiting, is there just a different population pool out there than there was maybe when you started policing? Is it because people have tattoos or they’ve had drug experiments? In the 1940s, if you had an overdue library book, Bill Parker would not hire you for the LAPD.

Bill Bratton: No, I think the issue’s different here than East Coast. East Coast, Massachusetts, New York, you cannot use polygraphs as part of your background screening. Here we use polygraphs. That accounts for about 40% of the failures of personnel.

The audio stream is available on-line here. The above exchange begins at about 23 minutes and 10 seconds into the segment.

While the polygraph may account for 40% of total disqualifications, it should also be noted that approximately 50% percent of LAPD applicants who make it as far along in the hiring process as the polygraph are branded as liars and disqualified. But as the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded, polygraph screening is completely invalid. hears regularly from LAPD applicants who report having been the victim of false positive polygraph outcomes. It is clear that many qualified applicants are being wrongly rejected. LAPD could and should alleviate its recruiting difficulties by scrapping the polygraph. As Chief Bratton noted, it’s not used in his home state of Massachusetts (where it is wisely prohibited by law).

It should also be noted that in 2004, Chief Bratton denied a California Public Records Act request for documentation concerning specific and credible allegations of corruption involving the head of LAPD’s polygraph unit, Mr. Roy Ortiz, who is also a member of the American Polygraph Association’s Board of Directors.

For related reading on the LAPD polygraph program, see George Maschke’s 2001 Los Angeles Daily News op-ed piece, LAPD Polygraphs Don’t Tell Full Truth. A list of the questions asked on the LAPD’s pre-employment polygraph examination is available here.

LAPD Chief Admits 50% Pre-Employment Polygraph Failure Rate

Los Angeles Times staff writers Jill Leovy and Matea Gold, in an article titled “Parks Defends Record on Crime, Consent Decree,” mention that Police Chief Bernard C. Parks acknowledged a 50% pre-employment polygraph failure rate in a meeting with reporters on Friday, 8 Feb. Excerpt (emphasis added):

On recruiting, Parks argued that factors outside his control have made it more difficult for the LAPD to expand its ranks. These include the city’s slow adoption of his recommended changes to the pension system, a tight labor market for police officers nationwide, and higher standards for recruits, he said. A new polygraph test, for example, eliminates half of all applicants, he said.

“There is not an unlimited reservoir of people who not only want to be police officers, but who are qualified to be police officers,” he said.

LAPD’s new polygraph requirement is not a “higher” standard: it is an arbitrary standard that is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as the service of the many truthful applicants who are being falsely accused of deception and denied due process. See George Maschke’s Los Angeles Daily News op-ed piece, “LAPD polygraph test results don’t tell full truth,” and for discussion of LAPD polygraph policy, see the California Polygraph Reform Initiative forum of the message board.

“LAPD Polygraph Test Results Don’t Tell Full Truth”’s George Maschke comments in this Los Angeles Daily News op-ed piece. Excerpt:

LOS Angeles has awarded a $615,000 noncompetitive contract to a company to give polygraph tests to Los Angeles Police Department recruits, paying double the going rate for lie-detector experts.

Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, has defended the contract, saying, “The other alternative was not to staff the Police Department, and that’s not an acceptable alternative.”

A better alternative is to scrap the polygraph altogether.

Since February, when polygraph testing began, the LAPD has branded roughly half of the otherwise qualified applicants polygraphed as liars.

I have heard from numerous LAPD applicants who claim they were falsely accused of deception. One writes, “Here I was, thinking I was well on my way to serving LAPD with integrity and honor, being accused of not only being a druggie, but a liar as well.”

Another notes, “I was told that if I tell the truth I have nothing to worry about; boy, was I wrong.”

Those falsely accused of deception have little or no avenue of appeal.

“Big Lies”

The Los Angeles Daily News discusses the city’s recent polygraph contract in this editorial. Excerpt:

City Hall’s budget woes get worse every day. This year’s projected deficit has nearly doubled in just a week.

Maybe that’s because City Hall pays twice the going rate for its services and contracts.

Take lie-detectors — and frankly it would be a good idea if our city leaders were given lie-detector tests with regularity.

Last week, the City Council approved a $615,000 contract with an East Coast security company to provide polygraph examinations for would-be Los Angeles Police Department officers. What the council didn’t ask about — and the bureaucrats didn’t mention — is that the company doesn’t have any polygraph experts.

Nor did anyone question why the city was paying $395 for each test when the firm was going out and hiring local polygraph experts to conduct the tests for the standard $200 fee.

In other words, the city will pay almost double the going rate for lie-detector tests. The deal, of course, was part of a no-bid contract with $62,000 thrown in so the firm’s executives can travel to Los Angeles to make sure the local experts are doing a good job.

Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the city Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, read about the company, U.S. Investigation Services Inc., in a brochure, and that seemed to be the extent of her research. City bureaucrats claim they made a few random phone calls and surfed the Web looking for competitors, but they didn’t seem to look very hard.

City Controller Laura Chick should take this latest example of waste as proof of the need for her tireless vigilance in defense of the taxpayers’ money. If she doesn’t do it, no one will.

When they’re campaigning, city politicians always make promises about managing the public’s funds responsibly. When they take the oath of office, they pledge to serve and protect the public and its concerns.

Maybe it’s the city’s politicians, not its police officers, who need lie-detector tests. Even at City Hall’s inflated rate of $395 a pop, it would be worth the money if it brought a little truth to City Hall.

“Double Charge for Cop Exams”

Beth Barrett of the Los Angeles Daily News reports on the non-competitive contract recently awarded to US Investigation Services to provide polygraph support for the Los Angeles Police Department. Excerpt:

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.

A better alternative would have been to scrap the LAPD’s polygraph program altogether. The $615,000 spent on pseudoscientific polygraph “testing” is taxpayer money wasted.

“Polygraph Firm to Test L.A. Police Recruits”

Los Angeles Daily News staff writer Harrison Sheppard reports on the Los Angeles City Council’s decision to award a $615,000 contract for polygraph services. This short article is cited in full here:

In an effort to speed up the police recruiting process, the City Council on Tuesday approved a $615,000 contract with a company to conduct polygraph tests on new recruits.

After the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division scandal, the city began requiring every police recruit to undergo a lie-detector test, but the LAPD does not have enough personnel to conduct the tests, leading to a backlog of 500 to 600 recruits in the application process.

The council approved a six-month contract with U.S. Investigation Services Inc.

The firm, headquartered in Vienna, Va., said it can eliminate the backlog in 60 days and then will continue working to prevent future backlogs. The company is expected to conduct about 1,400 polygraph tests at a cost of $395 each.

The city will also reimburse the contractor for up to $62,000 in travel costs.

“Ultimately, we want to hire more polygraph test-givers ourselves, but right now to catch up with the backlog, we are doing this contract with an outside firm,” said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

For discussion of LAPD’s polygraph policy, see the message board’s California Polygraph Reform Initiative forum.