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Polygraphs are not the way forward in police reform

Tomasz Zajda -

People for the American Way executive director Svante Myrick argues that Massachusetts should reconsider its prohibition on the use of polygraphs in the workplace to allow for pre-employment screening of police applicants (“To transform Boston policing, test for authoritarianism,” Opinion, Aug. 6). He is wrong.

Massachusetts prohibited both public and private employers from requiring applicants and employees to submit to any kind of lie detector testing in 1959. Since then, four other states — Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon — have followed suit. I’ve seen no evidence that these states have a worse problem with police misconduct than states where police applicants are subject to polygraph screening.


Polygraphs don’t work. They wrongly brand many innocent people as liars. Meanwhile, liars can easily beat the polygraph using simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on the polygraph and concluded that “its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

Reducing police misconduct is a worthy goal. Pretending to read the minds of police applicants with polygraphs is not the way to achieve it.

George W. Maschke

The Hague

The writer is cofounder of