“Police Turn to Polygraphs”

Maggie Shepard reports for the Albuquerque Tribune:

Anyone who wants to work in the Metropolitan Forensic Center evidence room will have to take a polygraph test, Albuquerque’s police chief said.

With an investigation having determined that $58,000 went missing from the evidence lockup, the Albuquerque Police Department is trying to minimize the chance that anyone with a dishonest streak can work in the operation.

“It is one of many tools to help verify honesty,” Police Chief Schultz said Tuesday regarding the use of polygraph testing as an employee screening method.

Polygraph tests have been administered to all officer applicants for the police department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department. The test is part of the screening process, which also includes a background investigation and a psychological exam.

County Undersheriff Sal Baragiola said applicants are interviewed at length about their past, touching on details of drug use, theft, sexual misconduct and violence.

The interview details are distilled into questions that should elicit the same answer when asked during the polygraph test, he said.

“We’re looking for any criminal behavior that would indicate that you have a lack of integrity and that you shouldn’t be in a position of trust,” Baragiola said. “It is used to verify what we’ve already been told.”

Evidence room employees, mostly civilians, already went through the same background checks as every other police department employee. They took the mandatory drug test and got clearance to their designated areas.

But those precautions didn’t prevent theft from the evidence room.

A report released Monday by the state Attorney General’s Office after a yearlong investigation indicated at least one evidence room employee committed crimes. Record-keeping and supervision were so sloppy that investigators concluded they wouldn’t be able to make a case against anyone, according to the report.

Schultz said adding the polygraph test to the hiring process is an effort to make sure evidence room employees have the trust of the community.

Schultz said it is “absolutely imperative” to have evidence room employees with impeccable character – the temptations they face include hundreds of pounds of drugs, about 15,000 guns and about $1.4 million in cash under their control.

He got the idea of testing civilian employees during his recent tenure in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he oversaw the department’s investigations unit.

The evidence room employees will be the only civilians in the department to take polygraphs before being hired.

Passing a polygraph is no guarantee of honesty, and failing one is not a sure sign of untrustworthiness, one authority said.

Alan Zelicoff, a physician, physicist and polygraph expert, says the test can be beat and shouldn’t be the only screen used to protect against hiring criminal employees.

“A polygraph test is self-deceptive, increases the risk of security violations because deceptive people can easily pass the polygraph, and it adversely affects morale,” he said.

Zelicoff is a former Sandia National Laboratories employee who has pushed to remove the use of polygraph testing at national laboratories.

The polygraph measures physical reactions such pulse increases and sweating in reaction to questions. Federal law requires that the device be operated by a licensed technician.

Federal employment law forbids the use of polygraph testing to screen employees for private firms except for security and pharmaceutical companies. The law does not apply to employment with federal, state or local governments.

“N.M. Supreme Court: Polygraph Results Can Be Used as Evidence”

KOBTV.com has published the following brief Associated Press report:

(Santa Fe-AP) — The state Supreme Court has ruled that polygraph test results can continue to be used as evidence in New Mexico courts.

New Mexico has allowed the use of lie detector results in courts for decades.

However, the Supreme Court has been considering whether to change its rule.

In a 30-page ruling, the court reaffirmed its rule and said polygraph test results are sufficiently reliable to be used as evidence in trials.

The state attorney general’s office had argued that polygraph tests were unsound science and should be excluded as evidence.

The Supreme Court makes rules for other New Mexico courts to follow.

The court’s ruling came in five consolidated criminal cases.

In a trial, polygraphs are sometimes uses to verify the truthfulness of witnesses and their testimony.

In endorsing the continued admissibility of polygraph “evidence,” the New Mexico Supreme Court chose to ignore the conclusions of District Judge Richard J. Knowles, whom the court had earlier directed to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding polygraph testing. After reviewing a large body of documentary evidence and hearing testimony from experts, Judge Knowles concluded that “[t]he results of polygraph testing are not sufficiently reliable for admissibility in courts in New Mexico.” His report, (New Mexico Supreme Court No. 27,915) may be downloaded as an 869 kb PDF file here.

“Rule on Marijuana Sparks Rift for Police”

This article by Albuquerque Tribune correspondent Aubrey Hovey includes a discussion of the Albuquerque Police Department’s policy of polygraphing applicants in an attempt to ascertain their truthfulness with regard to past drug use. Excerpt:

A marijuana-induced “buzz” is floating around the Albuquerque Police Department.

Past drug use by potential police recruits has caused a rift between Professional Standards Division Captain Ron Paiz and Jeff Remington, the police union president.

Paiz proposed changing a policy which disqualifies police recruits if they have smoked marijuana in the last three years. He wants to reduce the number of years from three to two.

Paiz, who proposed the change to APD Chief Gil Gallegos in October, called the old policy “outdated.” He said the department should mirror other law enforcement agencies around the state that accept recruits under the two-year policy.

Gallegos is reviewing the proposal, Paiz said.

Remington disagrees with the change, saying the new policy would lower the department’s standards. He said the only reason for the change would be to attract more recruits – the wrong kind.

“Why lower the standards unless you’re trying to attract a group of people that you can’t recruit unless you lower the standards?” Remington said Friday.

Paiz insists the department’s ongoing recruitment efforts have nothing to do with the proposal.

“That’s not the intent of the policy change,” Paiz said. “The change is to come in line with the times.”

However, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, the New Mexico State Police Department and the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety disqualify any applicant who has smoked marijuana within the last three years, department officials said.

Paiz said the department’s policy 30 years ago said recruits who had ever smoked marijuana would be disqualified.

When Paiz entered the department about 20 years ago, he said, the policy changed from ever smoking the drug to having smoked it within the past 18 months.

That remained in effect for 12 years, he said, before a lieutenant’s efforts led to the policy now in place.

Recruits are required to take a polygraph test while answering the question of how long it has been since they last smoked marijuana, Paiz said.

A former Sandia National Laboratories scientist said using the polygraph to screen employees is a bad idea.

Alan Zelicoff, a former senior scientist in the center for national security and arms control, said he has researched the polygraph and its purpose since 1995.

“In the setting of screening a candidate for employment, the polygraph has no place,” said Zelicoff, now a private consultant.

Zelicoff’s research, in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences, shows polygraphs reject the testimony of those telling the truth instead of identifying liars.

He said APD is making a mistake by using the test as a drug-screening tool.

“They’re deceiving themselves,” he said. “If we had medical tests that had the same failure rate as a polygraph, then physicians that use those tests would be convicted of malpractice.”

In discussions with Gallegos about the proposal, Remington said, union representatives will stress safety and upholding high standards.

“We’re going to sit down and we’re going to talk about this, and . . . hopefully we’ll get the numbers up in the department,” Remington said. “Both sides want to see not only Albuquerque safer with more police patrolling, but you want to have officers taking dangerous calls with the proper back up that they need.”

“New Mexico May Lose Polygraph”

This UPI article is cited here in full:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Sept. 10 (UPI) — A New Mexico judge has recommended the state discontinue using lie detector results in court, saying the tests are too unreliable.

New Mexico is the only state to routinely permit the results of polygraph, or lie detector, tests to be entered into evidence.

The New Mexico Supreme Court, which makes rules that other New Mexico courts must follow, had asked Albuquerque District Judge Richard Knowles to hear evidence on polygraphs in five consolidated cases from around the state.

The Albuquerque Journal said Knowles subsequently decided polygraph testing lacks standards, is not based on an overarching theory and employs techniques not based upon well-recognized scientific principles.

Knowles wrote: “Because of the inherently subjective nature of the test procedure, the polygraph examination cannot be repeated. Successful repetition of a test is the cornerstone of the scientific method.”

Opponents of the use of lie detectors noted in New Mexico, polygraphers receive eight weeks of training while barbers need 1,000 hours of training to be licensed.

“Española officers, clerks to take polygraph test”

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that a number of Española, NM civil servants will be forced to submit to polygraphic interrogation in the wake of thefts from City Hall. Excerpt:

Two Española police officers, a city clerk and two police clerks will undergo polygraphs to determine whether any of them stole $1,800 and 3.3 grams of heroin from City Hall. Española Police Chief Wayne Salazar said he received a list of employees to undergo the tests from city manager Leonard Padilla.
Salazar would not release the names of those who will take the test.

If these individuals were employees of a private company, the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act would give them the right to decline these unreliable “tests.” Unfortunately, the protections of the EPPA are not extended to government employees.