Tennessee police chief misusing lie detector test to identify “racists”

If this is how your police think you can weed out the bad apples, this Tennessee town is in trouble.

Tennessee police chief uses polygraph test to weed out racist applicants | Fox News.

A police chief hired to rebuild a tiny Tennessee department dismantled by scandal is using a lie-detector test to keep racists off his force.

Coopertown Police Chief Shane Sullivan took over the department in November, becoming the 11th chief in as many years. He was hired on the heels of a series of police scandals that for a few months left Coopertown with no police at all. Years before that, a mayor was voted out of office after the local prosecutor accused him of racism and running a notorious speed trap.

Law enforcement experts say Sullivan’s polygraph approach is unusual, though some departments use the devices for other purposes during the application process.

Sullivan said he doubts racists will even apply for the force if they know about the tests.

The new chief intends for his lie detector idea to help clean up the Coopertown’s image. Candidates are required to answer whether they have ever committed a hate crime or a race-based crime.

Several problems with this story. Lie detectors are bogus and don’t do what they are alleged to do. Many people don’t admit they are racist and when asked via polygraph will not appear to be lying so their body will not react (which is what is picked up by the lie detector) giving a false negative result. A person who is nervous about the test MAY overreact to the questions and appear to fail the test giving a false positive result. Racism and “hate” is not identifiable by simple yes or no questions. Define “hate crime”. And what about the particular nuances of a situation especially if it took place long ago? I would wonder if this is even legal! But it appears he is using the threat of the test to scare unwanted people away. I would be VERY concerned about what other nonsense tactics this police chief is using. What a mess!

Tip: Brewhogg

  7 comments for “Tennessee police chief misusing lie detector test to identify “racists”

  1. AmSci
    March 9, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I thought the cops KNEW the lie detector was bogus and just used it for leverage during interrogations. This story is scary on a number of levels.

  2. March 9, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    I took a criminal law class a couple years ago that was taught by an active police officer. He said that police mostly use lie detectors as investigative tools, not as “lie detectors”, really. Like if you’re trying to locate drugs or weapons that someone stashed you could ask them about a wide variety of likely and even unlikely leads and places and use their responses to narrow down an investigative direction. Like if the suspect’s responses seem to form a pattern of heightening when you mention his girlfriend or her house you might want to apply a little more investigative focus there. Not enough to get a search warrant, but still helpful sometimes.

  3. Ryuthrowsstuff
    March 10, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    That’s about the way it goes, indicating stressful topics to give better leverage in genuine interrogations. A subjects preconceived notions about the polygraph are also used to manipulate them during an interview. You can ask a question regarding a topic you already suspect the person is lying about, claim the polygraph proves they’re lying and then press the person to reveal accurate info. Or request a subject take a polygraph, claim they failed regardless of any results or if the test was even conducted properly, and interrogate them again. Or use the polygraph to play two accomplices off each other etc. The mere existence of the thing, and people’s confusion about them, is a better interrogation tool than you’d think.

    So this: “Sullivan said he doubts racists will even apply for the force if they know about the tests.” Shows me this guy might understand that the polygraph is BS. With applicants who (like the general public) buy into the polygraph as a legit lie detector, you deter certain applicants and gain an advantage in interviewing those who apply anyway. Besides it’s good PR. Its kind of a shame but much of it’s power as a law enforcement tool (discounting officers who believe the hype) comes from the misconceptions about it.

  4. Brad Kaufman
    March 11, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    Given the high value of what I was selling and transporting I was given a polygraph test when it was legal to do that as an employment screening process. Twenty years later, when a large theft occurred and I was the victim, I became the first person to be questioned about what happened. I was asked by the police if I would be willing to take a polygraph test? With nothing to hide, I said yes.

    The test was quite efficient. To prove that their conclusions to my answers were correct we did a “test.” The test, in my opinion, was to make me believe their ability to tell the truth or to weed-out the psychopath who can occasionally evade polygraphy. Either way, they most always win.

    My detective showed me ten playing cards that I chose from a deck. They were presented face-up, one after another. I was to chose one in my mind. I did. Then, the detective told me to answer false to the question of is this card yours? I answered false ten times. I did not squirm, or flinch, or have any tell-tale signs of my one lie. The detective showed me the tape of each reply and the one in which she identified the card I had chosen. I saw the marks. She was right.

    I’ve played poker my whole life. I know how to keep a face. Those who think they are better and smarter at this than me can sit at my table any night. Good luck to you. But, don’t play with a polygraph machine operator who knows what they are doing attached to you. They will find your bluff and your lies.

    btw: I no longer am in the business of dealing with assets of high value. I have none.

  5. March 12, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    So it’s a trick of manipulation, it’s not good science. The point is, it may be efficient but it’s not RELIABLE. It’s a ruse. Works some of the time.

  6. Brad Kaufman
    March 12, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    It is not a trick of manipulation. There’s no trick in showing you that something works. And, the one small fib I told was caught by them. They came back to it over and over. Later, when I talked to the FBI about it they said it was not relevant. They released me from suspicion on the basis of the polygraph and my interview with them. If you don’t believe it works go get polygraphed from a reputable source. See how good you are at fooling them.

  7. March 12, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Do the tests work? Depends how you define work. Probably the most comprehensive look at polygraph accuracy is a 2003 report from the National Academy of Sciences. After examining 57 polygraph studies the NAS concluded: "In populations of examinees such as those represented in the polygraph research literature, untrained in countermeasures, specific-incident polygraph tests can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below perfection." Their analysis of the 30 most recent polygraph data sets showed an overall accuracy of 85 percent, and an analysis of seven field studies involving specific incidents showed a median accuracy of 89 percent.

    For screening purposes, though, the NAS found polygraph tests had too high a margin of error to be genuinely informative. If you made your criteria loose enough to catch most of the bad guys, you were overwhelmed with false positives; if you raised the bar enough to thin out the false positives, you missed too many bad guys.

    via The Straight Dope: How accurate are lie-detector tests?.

    The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests).

    When a person lies it is assumed that these physiological changes occur in such a way that a trained expert can detect whether the person is lying. Is there a scientific formula or law which establishes a regular correlation between such physiological changes and lying? No. Is there any scientific evidence that polygraph experts can detect lies using their machine at a significantly better rate than non-experts using other methods? No. There are no machines and no experts that can detect with a high degree of accuracy when people, selected randomly, are lying and when they are telling the truth.

    via polygraph – lie detector – The Skeptic's Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

    It’s NOT reliable. And anecdotal evidence, that is, me trying it out, is worthless. One person’s experience means pretty much nothing. Sorry.

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