Polygraph testing is an important part of the recruitment process which police services use and have been using for many years. However, there has always been a debate in the criminal justice system on whether to or not to use polygraph testing. Regardless, polygraph testing is used by multiple police agencies to recruit candidates. Individuals that are for the use of polygraph testing argue that it is a valuable tool which help police services determine whether the candidate will engage in illegal activities. As well as determining whether candidates will engage in illegal activities, the polygraph can be used to eliminate candidates due to their past offences. This then lets the police service save the money that may have been used to train that individual. However, those against the use of polygraphs argue that there are countermeasures which can be used to try to deceive the polygraph test. Critics also argue that the candidate’s motivation play a effect on the readings of the polygraph.
Before talking about the pros and cons for the use of polygraph testing in the police services recruitment process, it is important to know what a polygraph test is as well as how it works. The polygraph machine compares physiological responses, such as blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration rate, and sweating, to different types of questions to tell whether someone is being truthful or deceptive. As they are being asked the questions they are having their physiological responses monitored. Monitoring the physiological shows when there is a rise in the examinee’s physiological response and it can be seen as the individual trying to deceive the polygraph test. When conducting the polygraph the examiner may use a variety of questioning techniques such as guilty knowledge test (commonly known as the concealed information test), control question test (CQT), pre-employment polygraph (PEP), relevant-irrelevant technique(RIT). Although there are many questioning techniques the CQT is the most commonly technique used throughout law enforcement agencies. This technique works by putting the integrity of the examinee in question by asking questions relating to other behaviours the individual may also have engaged in. Know that some basic knowledge about what a polygraph is and how it works is known, some knowledge about how the polygraph was invented should also be known.
Physiologist and police officer John Larsson first introduced the polygraph, as we know now, in the 1920s, from the University of California, Berkeley. However larson was not the first person to create the polygraph, it was William Marston. Larson only enhanced it. William first created an early prototype of the polygraph in 1915. However the machine that he invented only measured blood pressure. Larson added to this by coming up with a device that measured blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration rate, and sweating simultaneously. However larson did not file for a patent and a man, Leonarde Keeler, who was working under him filed for it. Along with larson, keeler also made improvements to the device, such as figuring out a way that regular ink can be used; so that it does not take half an hour to prepare the machine. Since the polygraph has been created there has been lots of discussions about the pros and cons of implementing the polygraph into the criminal justice recruitment process.
When applying to the RCMP there is a six step process, submit an online application, write the entrance exam, complete forms, pre-employment polygraph exam, have a health assessment, and undergo a field investigation and security clearance. Throughout this process the pre-employment polygraph exam (PEP) assists the RCMP in verifying all information the applicant has given in the previous three steps. This then helps the agency recruit people that meet the following requirements, according to their core values; integrity, honesty, professionalism, compassion, respect, and accountability. Throughout the years there have been multiple research studies to verify that the polygraph is an accurate tool. As stated in, Understanding How Polygraph Tests Work and Are Used by Iacono from two thousand polygraph tests conducted, a 98% accuracy rate existed. This shows that there is only a 2% chance that the polygraph test would display incorrect results. Individuals that are for polygraph testing argue that when errors are made or incorrect results are produced it is due to negligence of the examiner. Although the percentage is not 100%, the PEP is still an effective way to disqualify unwanted applicants.
The PEP is an advantage that police services have as it assists the agency uncover any past illegal activities. This then gives them the ability to eliminate any candidates that do not meet the required requirements or have given the agency suspicion of engaging in unethical activities. In a study conducted by Robert Meesig and Frank Horvath, it was shown that from 626 large agencies 62% used the PEP within their recruitment process, 7% used to use it, and 31% had never used it. And that within 1482 small agencies, 13% used the PEP, 4% used to use it, and 83% had never used it. This then helped the police department reject 25% of the candidates, due to information that got revealed while completing the PEP. Within the 25% of applicants rejected, 9% were apart of unsolved homicides, 34% were involved with sexual assault cases, and 38% were connected to armed robberies. The study shows that without the use of the polygraph, the 25% that were rejected would have gotten in and the police agency would not have known about their past activities.
As well as the PEP test eliminating any candidates that do not meet the requirements. The use of the polygraph also saves the police force money, this is due to the RCMP not having the candidates pay for the training. As well as the candidates not having to pay for the training, while they at the depot in Regina for the 26 weeks they are being paid $500 every week. This adds up to $13,000, which is just the amount for one candidate. There are approximately 32 cadets there, which means the RCMP is spending $416,000 just on the training. Along with that the RCMP pays for the candidates living expenses, travel to and from the depot, uniform fees, training courses, and insurance. According to Stats Canada, in 2016 2,630 officers were hired. This means that in 2016 the RCMP spent $34,190,000 just on training. If the polygraph test was not administered, an unknown amount number of applicants could have gotten hired, and the agency may not have found out the applicant’s background for activities where he or she was not apprehended. This then could result in them engaging in illegal activities, which would have resulted in them getting discharged and the money that was spent on their training would have gone to ‘waste’. The RCMP using the polygraph as a part of their recruitment process helps save their reputations as well as their funds.
Individuals against the polygraph test often argue that the examinee can use countermeasures to deceive the polygraph machine. Countermeasures are anything that examinee does to try to alter the tests data. Handler, Honts and Goodson (2015) state that there are 4 main types of countermeasures. The first are “General State Countermeasures”, these are actions intended to alter the the subject’s psychological state through the use of drugs or other types of interfering agents.They are not focused on specific questions, but the overall result of the exam. The second are “Specific Point Countermeasures”, these are actions the subjects takes at specific points throughout the exam. The examinee attempts to do this by trying to reduce his or her responses mentally or physically. The third way is “Spontaneous Countermeasures”, these are actions the subjects say they did not intend to do, had not planned to. These could be things such as attempting to control their breathing, trying to stay calm, and trying to relax. The fourth way is “Information Countermeasures”, for this one the subject knows they are going to be taking a polygraph test and attempt to find information about the techniques that are used.
As well as countermeasures being used in an attempt to deceive the polygraph machine, Staunton and Hammond state that a person’s motivation to achieve the best outcome for the purpose they are taking the polygraph test. This means that if the person is motivated enough to get the best result they possibly can, the polygraph can interpret it as the examinee trying to deceive the machine. However the process to be hired as a police officer is very challenging and all applicants have to try their hardest to get the highest mark on the exams, and to pass the polygraph. This is because only a certain amount of applicants are going to be hired, which means that for certain cases the candidates futures depend on the doing the best for all parts of the process. So according to Staunton and Hammond, when all the applicants take the polygraph it will interpret their motivation to get the job as the examinees trying to deceive it.
Polygraph testing is a very controversial topic throughout the criminal justice system. As shown throughout this paper, it can be seen that the polygraph test in the recruitment process for police agencies is not a perfect tool. However, there are many benefits to using the polygraph test such as: eliminating bad applicants, saving money, and confirming everything the applicant has filled out in the forms he or she submitted. Hopefully along with the advancements in technology we are having right now, in the future the polygraph test will advances to be 100% accurate and used in the police recruitment process.