This is one of our most frequently asked questions. Clients and examinees understandably want reassurance that they can rely on the outcome and of course, there will always be a number of our examinees that will be looking for any excuse if they failed the test.
Percentages of accuracy are always being quoted but I think it more accurate to focus the mind on whom is using the polygraph and in what areas of investigation it is being used. Many organisations now use the polygraph to test individuals in a controlled environment, where the outcome can be verified and in doing so both prove the value and accuracy of the tests we conduct as professional examiners.
Whilst it is true in the UK, the tests are not yet acceptable in evidence at Court. Many organisations associated with the legal system and security services rely on the polygraph as part of their investigations. The National Offender Management Service (formerly the Probation Service) polygraph sex offenders when they are released early into the community, so that they can monitor potential reoffending. This has resulted in a large number of offenders being returned to prison because of the admissions made either pre or post-test.
The word admissions is a nice word, what it actually means in this instance is that the polygraph has saved more children going through abuse. An article in the Independent newspaper in July 2017 detailed the UK Security Services intention to polygraph what they referred to as “Terror Informants”. These people give information about
proposed terrorist attacks, people associating with terror cells and other critical information that help to keep us our country safe.
The newspaper comments “ polygraph testing is finally gaining more much needed recognition in the United Kingdom, as it is recognised by counter terrorist operatives in various other countries and used effectively as an interrogation technique.
On screening personnel it says “we estimate there will be significant growth in these sectors in the coming years. After much publicised data breaches it further underlined that for businesses also there is often a need to test potential employees as companies carry out work with more sensitive personal data and they would need to make sure that the person is suitable for any high level security clearance.
I have seen for myself on many occasions the value of the polygraph in investigating crime. Working with my mentors and colleagues abroad, where the polygraph is widely used as part of the criminal investigation process, I have witnessed first-hand the impact the test has on a guilty suspect and just as importantly, how it can be used to clear the innocent. Hopefully, in the not too distant future the polygraph will be integrated into the investigation of crime in the UK.
There is a sense that the tide is turning and evidence based analysis through the
use of the polygraph will become the norm in serious investigations. We recognise the importance not only of maintaining the highest standards of polygraph training for
our examiners but also the importance of employing the right professional for the role, which is why or examiners are handpicked for their experience in both polygraph testing and investigative skills.
So, to return to our opening question, how accurate is the polygraph. The answer is quite clear. It is accurate enough to protect the most vulnerable and identify the most deceitful.