Former Head of RCMP Polygraph Unit Opposes Polygraph Screening

Charles Momy
Canadian Police Association president Charles Momy

Kudos to Charles Momy, the former head of the RCMP polygraph unit who now serves as president of the Canadian Police Association for his public opposition to polygraph screening. Momy’s criticism comes in the wake of a decision by the Quebec City municipal police to implement pre-employment polygraph screening. Marianne White reports for Postmedia News (excerpt):

QUEBEC — The president of the Canadian Police Association is questioning the decision of a police force to ask recruits to take a lie-detector test before they are hired.

Quebec City municipal police has hired a private company to conduct a polygraph in order to improve screening for drug use.

CPA president Charles Momy, who headed the RCMP polygraph unit for seven years, said these tests are not 100 per cent reliable and it’s the reason why they are not admissible in court.

“You could be eliminating very good candidates because the polygraph is not foolproof,” Momy said in an interview.

He noted the polygraph test can be a useful tool, but stressed when it comes to recruiting the best results can be achieved through a tight interview and investigation process.

“You can obtain probably a lot more information from recruits that way than going the polygraph route. And I say that even as a former polygraph examiner,” said Momy, who heads the association that represents 57,000 police personnel across Canada serving at different levels.

Congress Expands Customs and Border Patrol Polygraph Screening

Brian Kalish reports for GovernmentExecutive.com on the House of Representatives’ unanimous passage of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 (PDF) mandating that within two years, “all applicants for law enforcement positions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection receive polygraph examinations before being hired for such a position.”

Currently, only 15% of CBP applicants are polygraphed, with a reported failure rate of 60%. However, a reader comment on GovernmentExecutive.com suggests a significantly higher failure rate (emphasis added):

CBP needs to be more proactive in our search for the most qualified and upstanding candidates for employment to these sensitive positions. Our agency needs the very best citizens to serve the public in protecting our country from illegal entries of persons, goods and transports.

Only 1 in 341 applicants for Border Patrol Agent passed the polygraph test during our last recruitment. That is a very sad commentary, and bears a very poor reflection on our society in general.

AntiPolygraph.org cannot confirm the accuracy of this claim, and we welcome confirmation or disconfirmation from those with knowledge of the facts. Contact information is available here, and anonymous contact is also welcomed.

It is not clear whether periodic polygraph screening might eventually become a requirement for existing CBP employees. While the law does not mandate it, neither does it prohibit it.

The Truth About the Polygraph (According to the NSA)

The National Security Agency (NSA) has produced a video about its polygraph screening program. Watch it here, along with AntiPolygraph.org’s commentary:

The original source video is available here. For commentary on the NSA’s accompanying polygraph leaflet, see our earlier blog post, NSA Leaflet: Your Polygraph Examination.

For a thorough debunking of polygraphy, with extensive citations (including the U.S. Government’s own polygraph literature) that you may check for yourself, see AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF).

See also these public statements by individuals who have gone through the NSA polygraph process:

And for discussion of polygraph matters, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Failure Rate Pegged at 60%

Customs and Border ProtectionOn Thursday, 11 March 2010, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, it was disclosed that the failure rate associated with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-employment polygraph screening program stands at 60 percent. New York Times correspondent Randal C. Archibold reports, among other things:

Polygraph examinations, which officials call an important tool to help weed out bad hires, were administered to about 15 percent of applicants by the end of 2009.

That was an increase from the 10 percent of the previous year, but made possible only because hiring slowed for the first time in several years.

James F. Tomsheck, who is in charge of internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection, said that about 60 percent of candidates failed the test and were turned away, including some who officials believed had ties to criminal organizations.

Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, described the failure rate as “alarming to me.”

“It is to me, too, sir,” Mr. Tomsheck replied.

He said the agency had 31 polygraph examiners but needed 50 more to reach a goal of screening all new hires.

In addition, he said, the agency is far behind in conducting periodic background checks of current law enforcement employees.

He also proposed giving periodic polygraph examinations to those employees but said that Congressional authorization and financing would be needed.

In assessing the significance of the 60% polygraph failure rate, it is important to bear in mind the 2002 finding of the National Academy of Sciences that polygraph screening is completely invalid. Upon completion of a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphy, the NAS advised that “its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

Applying polygraph screening to all CBP applicants will not solve the problem of corruption within the organization. Polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector. Meanwhile, given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings and inherent bias against the truthful, many well-qualified applicants will be wrongly excluded from the agency. Anecdotally, AntiPolygraph.org has heard from a number of CBP applicants who report having been falsely accused of deception.

Is Patrick T. Coffey Fit to Be Screening Police Applicants?

Following up on his previous article on the San Francisco Police Department’s reliance on polygraph screening–despite broad scientific consensus that it is invalid–S.F. Weekly reporter Matt Smith takes an in-depth look at the man the SFPD has hired to polygraph applicants: Patrick T. Coffey, who received “$81,463 during the last fiscal year” for his services. Smith addresses bigoted postings that Coffey made to the AntiPolygraph.org message board in 2005 under the moniker “TheNoLieGuy4U” and also reveals that Coffey paid $10,000 to settle a 2002 lawsuit by a man who alleged that Coffey “performed a voice-stress-analysis exam on him without permission.”

S.F. Weekly Rips San Francisco Police Department’s Reliance on Polygraphy

In a well-researched article, S.F. Weekly reporter Matt Smith critically examines the SFPD’s reliance on polygraphy for applicant screening, despite it being completely discredited among scientists. Those interviewed include retired FBI scientist Dr. Drew Richardson, Professor Stephen Fienberg, who headed a National Academy of Sciences panel that  reviewed the scientific evidence on polygraphy, and polygraph operator Patrick Coffey, who’s company conducts polygraph examinations for the SFPD (and who in the past has trolled AntiPolygraph.org’s forums under the moniker, TheNoLieGuy4U).

Scott Lilienfeld on Polygraphy

Emory University professor of psychology Scott Lilienfeld, who pens  Psychology Today’s The Skeptical Psychologist blog, lambastes polygraphy (and the U.S. government’s continued reliance on this pseudoscience)  in an article titled, “The Polygraph Strikes–and Strikes Out–Again.”