Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy on the close ties between some public employees with influence over polygraph purchases and polygraph manufacturers. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON — When polygrapher Walt Goodson began moonlighting for a private company, he didn’t think the law enforcement agency he worked for would care. After all, his supervisor at the Texas Department of Public Safety had worked for his company’s competitor and had approved his outside job.
But after Texas investigators found his relationship with the polygraph manufacturer to be improper partly because of his involvement in a bid, Goodson agreed it looked bad, even describing some of the company’s arrangements as “kickbacks.”
“It’s the perception of the way everybody else sees it . . . ,” he told a Texas Department of Public Safety investigator in 2008. “It stinks.”
Public employees are supposed to avoid conflicts of interest such as Goodson’s because they could give a company an unfair advantage over competitors or create a greater expense for the public agency that’s buying a product. Even so, Goodson is one of 14 current or former law enforcement officers across the country who’ve been described by Lafayette Instrument Co. Inc. as dealers over the last six years, McClatchy has found. The officers’ listed sales territories have covered 22 states.
Lafayette, meanwhile, has become a leading manufacturer of polygraphs used by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies for employment screening, sex offender compliance and criminal investigations.
The Indiana-based company also has fostered strong ties with U.S. and international schools that train government polygraphers and with the professional organization that in turn certifies those polygraph schools. Goodson, for instance, no longer is listed as a dealer, but he now heads the ethics committee of the American Polygraph Association. Six other Lafayette dealers or consultants are listed as holding positions with either that organization or the American Association of Police Polygraphists. Seven directors of U.S. polygraph schools are listed as Lafayette representatives.
Their polygraphs also are becoming more popular abroad. In 2010, the State Department awarded the company a noncompetitive bid worth almost $2.4 million for 318 machines to be used by Mexico for its U.S-funded anti-corruption efforts. Lafayette lists dealers who head international polygraph schools, including one in Mexico.
Such relationships raise questions about the profession’s ability to assess criticism of the polygraphs. Lafayette manufactures the LX4000, which has been described as having a technical problem that can lead to inaccurate sweat measurements that may alter the outcome of a polygraph test, McClatchy has found. The problem can occur in other machines that use the same technology, but it hasn’t been thoroughly or independently studied.