Today I was cleaning out a file cabinet and came across an article I wrote almost 15 years ago. I told my son what I found and he suggested I post it here since it's been hiding away in a file all these years. I'm sure things have changed since then but this is my experience. I hope you enjoy this blast from the past.
Today I passed the (local) police department's polygraph! This was something required for my application to be a victim advocate for the department. I was very interested in finding out how this would all work!
I was first scheduled for the polygraph on a Friday. However, once it was known that I was on a beta blocker blood pressure medicine, I was required to get a note from my doctor "releasing me for a polygraph" before I could take the test. I was most efficient in getting my doctor's note and had it turned in at the the police department by 9:00 a.m. the next day. I waited for another week before I was called and given another appointment. The lieutenant conducting the test apologized for the delay in getting back to me as he was swamped with work. This time I was scheduled for Thursday, September 16, 2004.
The test started in a small, private room with carpeted walls and a desk with a computer and a big black chair for me to sit in. The chair looked like the electric chair at the prison, with maybe the back not so high (no, I've never seen a terminal chair in person!) The arm rests were wide and so was the chair. I had to show my drivers license to prove I was indeed who I said I was. After I sat in the black chair, the lieutenant pulled his chair from behind the desk to face me at an 11:00 o'clock angle and three feet from me. The first thing we did was to go through six pages of questions. He explained it was to get to know me as deeply as possible. The questions confirmed my name and then got specific. He asked if I had discipline as I was growing up and who administered that discipline? Who was my hero? What did I do for fun or hobbies? What time did I go to bed last night; get up this morning and what did I eat for breakfast? From there the questions were about "if I have ever" lied, cheated, stolen, used illegal drugs, physically assaulted anyone, had arrests and motor vehicle tickets, abuse of alcohol, peeking tom episodes or sexually assaulted anyone, forged checks. Some of the questions were asked over and over, just in different ways. If there was ever any hesitation "to think" it was quickly asked "what came to mind, what was I thinking?" Then it became necessary to explain any random thoughts that may have occurred (one thought I had to explain was that I remembered "biting" my friend when I was five or six!). This part of the test took one hour and 40 minutes. It quickly became obvious that one couldn't get by with dodging a thing as I was so closely watched with every question and ANY hesitation had to be explained.
After answering all questions as honestly as possible, I was then given a break and the "chosen" questions were put into the computer. This break lasted about 15 minutes. During this break I was escorted back into the lobby area where there was a bathroom and hallways plus displays to distract me while I waited.
The next phase involved the polygraph machine and hook up wires. Once again, in the little room, I was directed back to the big, black chair. This time there was an electrified pad on the seat for me to sit on. This pad would record any movement I made during the test (like squirming in my seat). A chain was wrapped around my upper bust and another chain around my waist. These were to record my heart rate. On my right hand I had electrodes wrapped on my index finger and ring finger. These were to record my sweating response. Finally a blood pressure cuff was put on my upper left arm to record my body blood flow. All this would measure my systemic (involuntary) response to questions for a fight, flight or freeze response. I also noticed a glass bubble on the ceiling and I asked "who is watching us?" I was told that's the video camera that can be used for some polygraphs. It is never used for employment polygraphs, however.
My first "test" involved my writing down a number between two and eight on a tablet of paper. Then I circled the number I wrote. The lieutenant then wrote above my number "5" the numbers 2, 3, 4, with my circled 5 in place followed by 6, 7, 8. My "only" opportunity to lie came next. With the polygraph running, I was to answer "NO" to every question. "Did I write number 2? Did I write number 3? Did I write number 4," answering NO to "did I write number 5," followed by the other numbers. My "lie" was easily detected on the graphs on the computer so with that "lie" established, we moved on to the "real" testing. I was told specifically I was not to lie anymore!
With the next part of the test, it was necessary to sit very, very still. If I moved at all, the chart (test on the computer) would have to be done over. I was to sit straight, still, with eyes closed and answer ONLY with a yes or no. Explanations were not acceptable. There were about 8 or so questions and they were to be done up to six times, each in a different chart and in a different order of questioning. The polygrapher started by saying "the test is starting" then the blood pressure cuff filled up and he came around the desk to push out any air bubbles in the cuff. Without moving, I would answer with the yes or no to each question. There was about 30 to 45 seconds between each question which recorded any physical response I had from my answer to the question. Some of the questions were: "Is your name Rita? Are you in Colorado? Have you ever lied to me at anytime? Have you ever used illegal drugs? Is there anything you're ashamed of? Have you ever taken credit for something you didn't do? Have you ever physically assaulted anyone? Have you ever taken another person's prescription drugs?" If I can remember any of the other questions I'll fill them in as it was so intense one couldn't really "dwell" on any of the questions or do much thinking during this time. It was important to keep still and not count the number of questions or think what they were. Afterwards the lieutenant would always ask if one question stood out more than another and I couldn't even remember what the questions were!
I noticed during the tests, my breathing was very shallow and the blood pressure cuff was very tight. After the last question of each chart, I was told "the test is not over yet" as the air was let out of the blood pressure cuff. I was still not to move at this point. Eventually I would be told that I could wiggle my fingers and move slightly if I needed to. One time I said I needed to "yawn" as I had been breathing so shallow. I asked if everyone else breathed shallow during this and he replied that "everyone is different."
After three charts, the session was finished. I asked if I had responses to anything on the test. I think I was being "tested" as I was told "you did have some response to the question of having ever used illegal drugs." I burst out in a spontaneous laugh and said "oh that's so funny as that's something that I absolutely have never done." As I found out later, another person taking the test had the same experience when they were told they had a response to a totally off the wall question. I think there were all sort of little "tests" in the questions, etc. to check us out! It was like probing us to admit to some deep, dark secret we hadn't revealed!
I was told I had passed and that I'd be recommended to be a victim advocate. I asked if the readings were like an EKG chart. My records were then opened on the computer and I saw the reading of my heart rate, sweat response and answered responses. Every line was in a different color and it was obvious that I had no spikes on the tests. Out of curiosity and wanting to find out as much as I could, I asked if I could have a copy of my written report. I was told that this is so confidential that even I couldn't have a copy. All paper work is kept behind a locked door in cabinets that only three people have keys for. These three keys are in protected custody of the three polygraphers in the police department and they don't look at each other's files. After four years, employment polygraphs are shredded. Other polygraph records may be kept longer for court requests and criminal reports, etc.
September 17, 2004, the next day. I'm amazed at how today I feel like I've been turned inside out and back again. When I returned home after the test, I was drained and on the verge of a headache. It was the intensity of the polygraph that I think I was feeling. It wasn't unpleasant to do the test or did I feel scared or threatened in any way. I only wanted to be as honest as possible and truthful. I guess deep soul searching and an unconscious response gave me this feeling. I have thought a lot about this experience in the last day and I see where going over it in my mind is a kind of debriefing of everything. It was a most interesting experience and I find some satisfaction in knowing "I passed my Police Department's polygraph test in flying colors."
Comment today (August 10, 2019): Fifteen years is a long time. I have no idea whether the same procedures are used now that I described here. My advice: always tell the truth.