Updated Law Enforcement Polygraph Handbook

Polygraph Law Enforcement Accreditation

In 2011, AntiPolygraph.org 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.

AntiPolygraph.org 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).

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker Scraps Polygraph Screening

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker

Applicants for employment with the Pennsylvania State Police will no longer be required to submit to the pseudoscientific ritual of polygraph screening. Angela Couloumbis reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

HARRISBURG – In a move sparking controversy, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker has quietly scrapped the agency’s long-held practice of administering lie-detector tests to its recruits.

State Police officials confirmed this week that applicants vying to become state troopers will no longer undergo polygraph testing as part of an extensive background check that helps determine their acceptance into the State Police Academy.

A spokesman for the State Police would not say why Blocker ordered the change. The agency also could not immediately provide information on how many candidates fail the test annually, what kind of questions are asked, or whether it has been successful in the past in identifying red flags.

But two state officials familiar with the decision said Blocker told agency managers he believes the testing slows down the hiring process, leading the State Police to lose out on qualified candidates who end up taking jobs elsewhere. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The fact that polygraphy has no scientific basis whatsoever is reason enough to scrap it. With respect to the Pennsylvania State Police polygraph program, AntiPolygraph.org has previously published documentation of its policies, including the specific questions asked of applicants.

Blocker is facing pushback from troopers who believe eliminating the polygraph takes away an important tool the agency has used to weed out unqualified applicants.

Joe Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, called it a “bad idea.”

“Right now, people in society want to know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the men and women we hire are of the outmost integrity – and the polygraph test has proven to be an important tool in determining that,” said Kovel.

He said he had expressed the concerns of his union’s membership – more than 4,000 troopers – to Blocker.

Pennsylvania State Troopers Association president Joseph R. Kovel’s misgivings about the decision to scrap the polygraph are misplaced. There is no evidence that polygraph screening results in a more honest police force. For example, there is no documentation that police forces in Pennsylvania, where polygraph screening is generally permitted, are any less honest than police forces in the neighboring state of New Jersey, where state law prohibits polygraph screening of police applicants.

Moreover, as more and more people in society come to understand that polygraph “testing” is a pseudoscientific fraud, the fact that police agencies rely on it in the hiring process will increasingly inspire the opposite of confidence.

Despite debate over the effectiveness and reliability of lie-detector tests, most federal, state and local law enforcement agencies use them when screening applicants. Candidates may be asked, for instance, about sexual activity, employers, past drug use, contact with criminals or legal actions against them.

There are exceptions: the New York City Police Department and the New Jersey State Police, for instance, do not use polygraphs in pre-employment screening.

But particularly at the federal level, the results can automatically disqualify applicants, said George Maschke, a onetime U.S. Army reserve intelligence officer and co-founder of AntiPolygraph.org, a non-profit website that questions the reliability and effectiveness of polygraph testing, as well as the science behind them.

In an interview, Maschke called the State Police’s decision to scrap the test “a wise one.”

He called the science behind them “junk,” and said they can easily be manipulated by knowledgeable applicants. Conversely, he said, the tests can also produce faulty results because the things they measure – such as changes in breathing, perspiration and blood pressure – often occur for reasons other than lying.

“Resentment at being asked an accusatory question, fear of not being believed even though you are telling the truth, embarrassment over being asked a personal question – all sorts of things could cause those changes,” said Maschke. “Even the tone of voice of the interrogators can produce that change.”

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker is to be commended for his decision to terminate the long-held but invalid practice of polygraph screening. It is inherently biased against the truthful, resulting in many false positives, while liars can easily fool the polygraph using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect. Other law enforcement agency leaders should take note and follow Commissioner Blocker’s example.

Polygraph Results at Center of Pennsylvania State Police Perjury Probe

Nicole Weisensee Egan reports for the Philadelphia Daily News in an article titled, “Discipline chief probed for lying, sources say.” Excerpt:

The Pennsylvania State Police’s disciplinary officer, who has fired troopers for lying in investigations, is himself under internal investigation for lying during an arbitration, sources said.

Capt. Robert “Barry” Titler, 49, who has been the agency’s disciplinary officer since 1999, allegedly lied about knowing the results of a lie-detector test that a trooper took, sources said.

Deputy State Police Commissioner Cynthia Transue and others heard Titler say he knew the trooper failed a lie-detector test and intended to fire him, sources said.

Lie-detector tests are an investigative tool for internal-affairs investigators but are not admissible as evidence, just like in criminal investigations. Internal affairs is not allowed to let the disciplinary officer and the administration know the results of those tests.

Although there was no evidence against the trooper, Titler fired him, sources said.

The trooper filed a grievance to get his job back. During the arbitration hearings, Titler said he did not know the lie-detector results, sources said.

After Transue heard about Titler’s testimony, she filed an internal-affairs complaint against Titler for perjury, sources said. That internal investigation is ongoing, but Titler is still making termination decisions while the probe continues.

In the meantime, Deputy Police Commissioner Rick Brown, who was recently promoted from heading internal affairs, said there will be no criminal investigation of Titler because “it’s not that big of a deal,” one source said.

“Even though in a very similar case, Brown ordered a criminal investigation be done for the exact same violation,” the source said.

What’s even more ironic, the source said, is that Titler helped to write a new field regulation that makes lying during an administrative investigation or a court proceeding punishable with dismissal.