police chief uses polygraph test to weed out racist applicants

Polygraphs are popular on Maury, Jerry Springer and now the small town of Coopertown, Tennessee. Coopertown Police Chief Shane Sullivan was hired to rebuild the police department after years of corruption and allegations of racism.  Sullivan has now enlisted the use of polygraph tests as a hiring procedure to ensure racists are kept off the force.

Some polygraph experts don’t think it’ll work. One polygraph expert warned that lie detectors can’t accurately predict racism for reasons that include people’s inability to recognize their own racism. Would Archie Bunker refer to himself as a racist? Probably not, because in his mind, George Jefferson was his ‘friend’. But Sullivan feels that the polygraph will discourage racists from applying.

“I think the polygraph will definitely keep these people from applying. I’ve told a couple of ones about the polygraph who have not called me back” the 39-year-old chief said.

Coopertown has about 4,000 residents and 95 percent of them are white, but the law enforcement issues are quite prevalent. A reserve police officer was fired after his dashboard camera recorded him using a racial slur to describe a black motorist he pulled over. The town is also notorious for its speed traps, which some feel are unfairly used to target Hispanic drivers, out-of-towners and soldiers from nearby Fort Campbell, Ky.

Sullivan hopes that the new polygraphs will make a difference.  In addition to candidates being asked about their past drug use or possible criminal backgrounds, they are now required to answer whether they have ever committed a hate crime or a race-based crime.

“It doesn’t ask if you’ve ever made a racist remark or slur,” the chief said. Nor does the test ask people if they are prejudiced against any ethnic or religious minority.

Bob Peters, a spokesman for the American Polygraph Association, said asking about factual matters is a better approach than using subjective questions about prejudice or racism. He says a polygraph can’t accurately predict whether someone is racist.

“There might be people whom I might think have racist attitudes but they might not think so,” said Peters, whose association has established best practices for use of the polygraph.

Do you think this is a good idea and maybe other police departments should consider using this approach to eliminating racist cops?

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  • Sasha

    The test itself may not be 100% effective but we see that it’s having a slight effect since some individuals who were told about the polygraph upon application didn’t bother calling back. It’s a new idea worth trying out and is a step in a better direction since sensitivity training is about the only HR tool used to address/ combat racism.

  • gmarie

    Now..let’s begin using them on racist employers…

  • It’s worth a shot, why not?

  • It should be borne in mind that polygraphs have no scientific basis at all. The “test” depends on trickery (and the examinee’s ignorance and fear). Truthful persons are often wrongly branded as liars, while liars can easily pass the polygraph using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.

    It’s also worth noting that a study by the federal polygraph school showed that truthful blacks were more likely to fail the polygraph than truthful whites. The government attempted to suppress this study, but a copy survived. You can download it with an introductory note here:

    https://antipolygraph.org/documents/dodpi-racial-bias-study.pdf

    Keeping racists out of law enforcement is a laudable goal, but polygraphs are the wrong way to go about achieving it.