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.