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Polygraph Examinations by Paul Lepore – Division Chief

Polygraph – means “many writings”. It is a machine that measures and records physiological activity when an examiner asks questions and the examinee answers them.

Different instruments are placed on the subject’s body by the examiner:

a. rubber tubes placed on subject’s chest and abdomen will record respiratory activity
b. small plates attached to the fingers will record sweat gland activity
c. blood pressure cuff will record cardiovascular activity

Polygraph examiners typically administer a “pre-test”.

- paperwork will be completed

- questions that will be asked during the exam will be discussed

- often subject will be asked to intentionally lie, to see how the machine works, and lend credibility to the test
After the polygraph test, the examiner will question the subject on anything that gives an unusual reading. The subject will have an opportunity to explain any unusual findings.

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1998 (EPPA) prohibits most private employers from administering a polygraph test before hiring someone. This does not apply to public employers such as:
- police
- fire departments
- some governmental institutions

There is controversy surrounding polygraph tests.

- proponents believe they are accurate
- opponents say there is minimal science associated with the process.

- according to the Journal of Applied Psychology (1997), the polygraph exam has a 61% accuracy rate
- according to Jerry Smith, former CIA general counsel, “The polygraph is not perfect. Honest people have failed, while dishonest people have passed. The polygraph is intrusive and may be abused. If it is misused, it can ruin the careers of honest people.”

In an ACLU briefing paper, an article explains that there is no reliable machine that can detect lies with any degree of accuracy. They state that the “lie detector” does not measure truth telling, it measures changes in:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- breathing rate
- perspiration

Emotions can trigger these physiological changes as well, such as:
- anger
- sadness
- embarrassment
- fear
In addition, medical conditions can distort results, such as:
- colds
- headaches
- neurological problems
- muscular problems
Thus there are a variety of circumstances that can alter test results. Why then, is it still administered?

Proponents believe that:

a. an applicant’s prior knowledge of the agency’s policy to administer a polygraph test results in a higher caliber of applicant

b. applicants with questionable backgrounds don’t even apply

c. applicants who do apply are generally more honest, knowing they will be questioned on a polygraph
Unfortunately, these beliefs cannot be verified.

The American Polygraph Association (APA) Research Center at Michigan State University conducted a study of police departments to determine the extent of polygraph use for pre-employment screening for police officers. It included roughly 700 of the nation’s largest police departments. Results revealed that:

- 62% of police departments administer pre-employment polygraph tests

- 31% did not

- 7% discontinued them because of legislation that had been put into place within their jurisdiction

Of the applicants tested:

- 25% were disqualified, mostly for some form of serious crime. Of these:

- 9% were involved in unsolved homicide

- 34% had some involvement in forcible rape

- 38% had participated in armed robberies

According to the APA and EPPA, no examiner shall delve into the following on a test:

- religious beliefs

- opinions/beliefs regarding racial matters

- political beliefs

- lawful activities or affiliations with labor unions/organizations

- sexual preferences/activities

In law enforcement pre-employment polygraph tests (and presumably fire department exams as well), the questions focus on such job-related inquiries as:

- theft of money or merchandise from previous employers

- falsification of information on the job application

- use of illegal drugs during working hours

- criminal activities

The results of the polygraph exam can only be released to authorized persons. These are the person themselves, and the person, firm, corporation, or governmental agency that requested the exam.

If a polygraph examinee believes an error has occurred in the process, he or she can:

- request in writing a second exam and retain an independent examiner

- this will be paid for by the applicant, with no guarantee the agency will accept the results

- file a complaint with the state licensing board for polygraph examiners and/or the Department of Labor

- file a request for assistance from the APA

Polygraphs are obviously not an exact science. At best they can give the examiner a strong indication that the examinee may not be telling the truth. At worst they can give a false reading, indicating that an applicant is lying when they are not. In any case, applicants need to educate themselves on the process, as they are becoming more popular. An internet search under “polygraph examinations” should yield more information on this subject.

About the Author: Paul Lepore is currently a shift Division Chief for a fire department in Southern California. In addition to managing the emergency responses for the City, his responsibilities include managing the EMS Division, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and the CERT program.

Prior to this position, Chief Lepore spent 23 years on the Long Beach Fire Department. He spent 5 years as a Battalion Chief working predominantly in the northern part of the city. He was also assigned as the Battalion Chief in charge of the EMS Division for two years. He feels very fortunate to have run some major incidents typical of a big city fire department, including working as a member of the Operations Section during the Paradise Gardens Apartments fire, the largest in the city for the past 25 years. Chief Lepore has also managed some challenging personnel issues during his tenure as a chief officer. He has written, developed and proctored numerous promotional examinations, and shares both his operational and administrative experience with others to help them achieve their promotional goals.

Chief Lepore entered the fire service as a civilian Paramedic for the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. After completing his education at the Los Angeles County Paramedic Training Institute, Lepore worked in the high impact area of South Central, Los Angeles. He was hired by the Long Beach Fire Department in 1986 and completed a 12-week academy. He spent the next two years working as a firefighter until he was promoted to firefighter/ paramedic. Lepore was promoted to Fire Captain in 1998 and to Battalion Chief in 2005. He took an outside Division Chief promotional exam for a neighboring department, where he was hired in 2010.

Chief Lepore earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocational Education from California State University, Long Beach. He also earned an AS degree in Fire Science from Santa Ana College.

Lepore has conducted hundreds of entry-level interviews, as well as served as a rater for dozens of Battalion Chief and Captain’s promotional exams. He holds instructor credentials for EMT, Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

He has presented to local and national audiences at Firehouse World in San Diego and Las Vegas, the CSFA Conference in Long Beach, as well as the Northern California Training Officer’s conference. Presentation topics include Tactics and Strategy, Promoting in the Fire Service, and Formulating a Plan to Promote. He has also conducted numerous seminars to teach and mentor entry-level candidates.

Chief Lepore and his wife founded EMS Safety Services, a corporation which provides emergency response training programs, and sells quality, cost-effective emergency response products. Lepore and his lovely wife Marian have two daughters, Ashley and Samantha, and two granddaughters.

As an avid saltwater fisherman he has also written a book titled, “Sport Fishing in Baja”.

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