What does a polygraph examiner do?
Polygraph examiners use a variety of instruments to measure respiratory, sweat gland and cardiovascular responses to questions posed during an oral examination. They then interpret the results of the examination to render an opinion as to the truthfulness of the examinee’s responses. Polygraph tests are used by attorneys, probation and parole departments and law enforcement agencies, as well as by companies and individuals in the private sector.
A polygraph examiner’s work may include:
- meeting with clients or attorneys to determine which questions need to be asked to each person
- hooking witnesses and suspects up to the equipment, and asking them questions
- keeping records and preparing reports detailing findings, investigative methods and laboratory techniques
- testifying in court about investigative or analytical methods or findings
- taking photographs of evidence
- operating and maintaining laboratory equipment and apparatus
- conferring with ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, documents, electronics, medical, chemical or metallurgical experts concerning evidence and its interpretation.
Leon Coetsee | FORENSIC PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGIST (POLYGRAPH EXAMINER) | Integra Polygraph Solutions
What does your career entail?
We offer a range of services to corporates and private individuals in situations where the veracity of information needs to be established. A polygraph instrument is used to assist us with our investigations. We do pre-employment screenings, specific incident investigations and periodic screenings of staff to identify undesirable behaviour in the workforce.
Why did you choose this profession?
I initially started out in the import/export industry and warehoused a lot of high value consumer goods. Loss control was an important part of the job and polygraph-based investigations was one of the tools used to identify possible causes for the losses taking place.
What training did you undergo?
I completed a Diploma in Forensic Psychophysiology at an American Polygraph Association approved training facility.
What type of personality is suited to this?
Every time you go to work you make decisions that can have a significant impact on the lives of others. You cannot allow emotions to cloud your judgment, or be apathetic to the individual’s circumstances. A person needs to be ethical, pragmatic and perceptive, and also confident and articulate as a crucial part of the job involves interviewing people one-to-one. One needs to be able to gain a stranger’s trust.
Experience versus formal training?
You only really learn how to be a good examiner through experience. I would recommend getting a background in criminology and psychology and getting some experience in an investigative field before embarking on this career.
Describe a typical day
Arrive at a client, discuss the matter under investigation and formulate the test questions to be asked. Individual interviews are then conducted and a polygraph test is administered. Test data is analysed and scored and a finding is reached. Depending on the circumstances, the outcome is then potentially discussed with the examinee to gather additional information. At the end of the day, findings are discussed and often you will advise the client on what further action can be taken. Tests take between one and two hours and are mentally quite taxing, so we limit the number of tests we conduct in a day to four or five persons. In the evenings, reports are prepared.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Helping people find answers and solving their problems. Sometimes you will gain valuable evidence that leads to convictions in serious criminal matters.
Which aspects are you least keen on?
The services we provide are needed but not always wanted, so you often have to deal with people who are belligerent and openly hostile towards you. In some cases examinees will break down in tears and, although you might be sympathetic to their situation, your obligation is towards finding out the truth.
Your career highlights to date?
I once conducted an investigation on behalf of family members of a victim of a fatal shooting. Information gathered during the investigation ultimately lead to the arrest and conviction of a dangerous housebreaking syndicate. I also investigated a theft from a member of a famous rock band that was touring SA.
Advice for starting out in your career?
An old dog can still teach a few tricks; find an experienced professional examiner and do an apprenticeship with him before you go into the field.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
Most polygraph examiners have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminology, law, physiology or policing. They often have experience in law enforcement or investigations, but a background in psychology or behavioral science is also beneficial. There are specific polygraph short courses available. Other courses to take that help with skills include public speaking and interviewing, political science, or basic law classes. Many polygraph examiners work in court rooms, so an understanding of what information needs to be obtained and how various law procedures work is important. Experience gained under a qualified polygraph examiner and practice at performing tests is required.