I have always wanted to be in law enforcement. I guess a childhood of watching Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, TJ Hooker, Hunter and SWAT and reading every book I could get my hands on -- from books about J. Edgar Hoover and the G-men to Sherlock Holmes novels -- made a real impact. However, since the age of 18 months, I had to wear glasses. Pretty thick ones, too! So, until the advent of LASIK, I had given up on a career as a cop. Imagine my glee when I discovered that this "new" technique was accepted by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)! Since this technique has been a long time being accepted, I am probably one of the oldest people applying for a job with LAPD. In February 2001, I borrowed the $2000 and had LASIK. In October my eyes tested so close to 20/20 as to be perfect! (LASIK is well worth it if any of you are considering it!)
Before I began my application process, I never gave much thought to polygraph "testing." Like most people, I thought there was in fact real science behind this "test," and I erroneously assumed it was going to be merely another hurdle for me to complete before I could join LAPD. I gave it no more consideration than I did the written test, which I knew I would pass. I figured all I had to do was go in and tell the truth.
My experiences and my subsequent research regarding polygraph "testing" have brought me to the conclusion that my perceptions were entirely inaccurate. I am now thoroughly convinced that if the LAPD is indeed using this as a deciding factor in their hiring decisions, they are making a terrible mistake.
I had previously undergone a polygraph "test" for a private employer way back in 1984 (prior to it being deemed illegal for private sector pre-employment screening). The machine was an old analog machine (not the new, computerized variety they have now), and the "tester" was probably more in it for the money than to determine my suitability as an employee, as his heart did not seem to be in it, and his questions were not very intense. I do not know what the results were, but I was hired for the job (an after-school, part-time job).
I went to Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles for my test this year (2001). On my way to the room, I was told to put my book bag (which had a camera and other non-essential personal effects) in the polygrapher's office, which was separate from the "testing" rooms. Before anything else, he asked if I had ever had a polygraph before. I told him that I had previously taken, and apparently passed, a polygraph. This answer made him immediately suspicious of me. Before he began the "actual" interrogation, he asked if I understood the techniques involved. When I replied that I only had a passing knowledge, he explained, in great detail, the physical characteristics that his machine measures. I have no doubt that this machine does indeed accurately measure skin conductivity, breathing rate, pulse, and changes in blood pressure. These are measurable physiological attributes. However, after my research, I refuse to believe that those physiological measurements are infallible indicators that a person is "being deceptive" or not. He seemed to be trying to convince me of its accuracy. He recounted several people he had caught in lies during their pre-employment tests "including murder," which I found hard to believe. Why would a murderer be applying for a job at LAPD?
We went over the questions he was going to ask, and I answered "Yes" to one (I think it was, "Have you ever lied to anyone who trusted you?" and I had told my girlfriend in college that I had been studying, when, in fact, I had been drinking beer and watching a football game with some friends). The question was then modified to add the precursor, "Apart from what we have discussed..." so that all my answers would be "No."
Before what I thought was the actual test even began, but after I was attached to the apparatus, he accused me of using "countermeasures" to try to beat the test. I was not quite sure what "countermeasures" were, but he told me to sit in the chair and relax. I was merely trying to relax, but he said my breathing rate looked suspiciously slow. He tried to show me how fast I should be breathing, saying, "If I show this to my supervisor, he'll say you are using countermeasures, and you'll be out." This seemed suspicious. Why was he trying to tell me how to make it look like I was "telling the truth?" (Which I was, anyway).
After the first round of questions were asked, he took the print-out from the computer and left the room for approximately 20 minutes. When he returned, he asked me, "Do you have anything you want to tell me?" I said "No, I have been completely truthful." At this, he sat down and rubbed his eyes in a way that seemed to indicate impatience with what I was saying. He said, "You know, some people, they figure they will 'roll the dice,' and they don't really care if the get the job or not. I mean, how bad do you want this?"
Remember, I paid $2,000 to have the corneas of my eyes sawed in half and lasered flat to get here! How bad do you think I want this?
Well, he looked at the chart and accused me of "being deceptive" about my past illegal drug use and asked me if I had told the truth. This took me by complete surprise, as I had, in fact, told the whole truth. (Even though I have always been staunchly anti-drug, I did smoke pot once in college, mostly to impress a girl I met at a fraternity party.) He asked again if I "had anything else I wanted to tell him" and said, "We need to clear this matter up." I asked, "Does underage drinking count as illegal drug usage?" and he said, "No." And I said, "Then, my answer is still 'no.'"
Since I certainly was not lying, I was not about to make up some lies to make him think I was telling the truth. So, despite his pressuring me to "come clean" and "get it out in the open now because it can hurt you later," I said, "No, sir, I have told you the complete truth; I don't have anything to get out in the open."
Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say. He hooked me up to the machine and did it again, this time asking questions related not only to illegal drugs, but also to falsifying documents (which I have never done either). The second batch was a nightmare! Here I was, thinking I was well on my way to serving LAPD with integrity and honor, being accused of not only being a druggie, but a liar as well. I thought that I "failed" the second set.
I have always wanted to work in law enforcement. I felt that a place that so desperately needs officers as LAPD does (at least 1,200 according to the last count I heard), would be pleased to have someone of my caliber applying. I am absolutely convinced that I would make a great cop. However, this "test" made me feel like scum and I began to question why LAPD would put its applicants through such stress.
It was, quite possibly, the most unpleasant experience I have ever had. The worst part is that I could lose my competitiveness based solely on the outcome of this arbitrary "test."
Finally, after taking the second computer print-out and again leaving the room for about 20 minutes, he returned to the interrogation room and announced, "You have 'provisionally' passed, but now the results must be sent out for analysis." To me, this sounded like I "failed," and he didn't want to be the one to have to deliver the bad news to me.
When I returned home, a friend who knew I had taken a polygraph sent me an article from Skeptical Inquirer magazine regarding the questionable accuracy of these "tests." After having just gone through this experience, my interest in the subject was piqued, so I did some more research and came across this non-profit web-site.
Imagine my surprise, contempt and disgust when I got to page 62 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector only to find a list of comments that my interrogator had used almost verbatim during my "test." These comments come directly from the manual called "Interview and Interrogation Handbook" which is used by the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute.
Let me be absolutely clear here: I am in no way personally faulting the detective who administered the "test." The problem lies in that the process itself is useless, and the techniques employed are very, very negative. He was just doing what he was taught to do. Which is precisely my point. I can't imagine that the LAPD wants to subject potential officers to such abuse. I understand that some forms of stress are useful and productive. This one is neither.
If these things are grossly inaccurate (and every impartial scientific journal I have found claims they are) they need to be abolished immediately. This stuff is no more than electronic voodoo. It should make one wonder that confessions gained while using polygraphs are legal in court, but polygraph results themselves are not. It should also make one wonder that the USA is the only country that still uses this contraption on a regular basis. I can only imagine how many qualified candidates are being disqualified on the basis of this stupid machine.
I haven't heard anything from the LAPD, so at this point, I do not know where I stand. Wish me luck. That's what it is going to take.
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