The Use of Polygraph Tests in the Police Hiring Process: 2023

If you are thinking about working in law enforcement, you have to go through a pre-employment screening process that might include a polygraph or lie detector test.

Polygraph testing for police positions has been in practice since the early 1900s. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they became more widely adopted as a standard.

A Woman Undergoing A Polygraph Test

They are based on the assumption that physiological responses, such as your heart rate and blood pressure, might reveal whether or not you are telling the truth. The questions are designed to elicit physical responses, and are often related to your background, qualifications, and eligibility for the position in the subject field.

Many believe that polygraphs are not reliable indicators of honesty and can produce false positives or false negatives. The American Psychological Association stated that “the diagnostic accuracy of the polygraph for identifying deception is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee selection.” While others claim 88–95% accuracy.

Their application is not uniform across all departments in the US. Some place more emphasis, while others rely on other types of pre-employment screening, such as psychological evaluations or drug testing, in addition to the polygraph. Furthermore, the process may be influenced by state and local laws and regulations.



Why do police departments use polygraph tests in the hiring process?

An examiner tests an examinee while he is attached to a polygraph machine.

Their use is centered on the idea that if you are willing to be dishonest during the testing process, you are likely to be dishonest in other aspects of your life, including as a police officer.

There are many reasons for which police departments use polygraphs in their hiring processes. For one, the job is one of great responsibility, and it is vital that they are honest, trustworthy, and have a high level of integrity.

In addition, police officers are often required to make split-second decisions in high-pressure situations, and it is important that they can be relied upon to make the right one. With polygraphs, police departments hope to identify those who have a high level of emotional stability and are able to remain calm and focused under pressure.

Finally, applying them can help deter individuals who may be tempted to engage in unethical or illegal behavior. The mere idea that they will be subjected to a polygraph test may serve as a barrier for them.


Types of questions that are typically asked

Polygraph questions for a police position may vary depending on the department and the specific role. Yet there are some common types you can expect.

Some could be related to your personal history. Regarding any criminal activity or involvement with law enforcement, as well as any prior drug use or addiction. You are also likely to be asked about your financial history, including any outstanding debts or bankruptcies.

Another type could be related to your qualifications for the position. concerning education and training, as well as your previous work experience in law enforcement or related fields. You may also be asked about your familiarity with the community and your ability to communicate with diverse populations.

Besides these, they could be about your personal values and character, such as your views on honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior. Also, your past experiences with conflict resolution and your ability to maintain composure in stressful situations.


How to get ready

While the examiner watches the screen, a polygraph examinee is attached to the device.

  • Understanding the Process: Before taking a polygraph, it is useful to know the process. The examiner will typically start by explaining the test and answering any inquiries you may have. You will then be asked a series of questions that are designed to elicit physiological responses. Your reactions will then be monitored and recorded to determine the truthfulness of your answers.
  • It is also recommended that you get a good night’s sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs in the days leading up to the test. Dress comfortably and arrive early to the testing location to allow yourself time to relax and calm any nerves.
  • During the test, it is important to remain calm and relaxed. You should answer all questions truthfully and listen carefully to the examiner’s instructions. It is also important to remain still and avoid any unnecessary movements.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that may interfere with your physiological responses. You should make sure to eat a healthy meal beforehand to keep your blood sugar levels stable.


The potential impact of failing a polygraph on police hiring decisions

Failing a polygraph test can have a significant impact on your chances of being hired as a police officer. While the results are not necessarily definitive, many departments give them substantial weight.

If you fail, it can raise red flags about your character and truthfulness, which may lead to your disqualification. In some cases, even if you have an otherwise strong application and background, it can be an automatic disqualifier.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that polygraph tests are not 100% accurate and can produce false positives or negatives. Meaning that even if you’re telling the truth, you still fail, which can be frustrating and potentially damaging.

Additionally, some argue that they can be biased against certain groups, such as those with anxiety disorders or certain cultural backgrounds, leading to inaccurate results and potentially unfair hiring decisions.

If you fail, understand your options. You may be able to challenge the results or request a retest, depending on the policies of the police department and the laws in your jurisdiction.


Common Myths and Misconceptions

An examinee attached to a polygraph machine

Myth 1: Polygraph tests are invasive

A common misconception about polygraphs is that they are painful and intrusive. While it is true that the test involves attaching sensors to your body for physiological responses, it is not a painful or uncomfortable process. The sensors are simply attached to the fingers, chest, and abdomen.

Myth 2: Polygraph tests can be beaten by a skilled liar

Some believe they can fool a polygraph by being capable liars. However, this is simply not true. Examiners are trained to detect even the smallest signs of deception and unusual physiological responses; the test is intended to measure those that are difficult to control. While it is possible for someone to try to manipulate their responses, it is unlikely that they will be successful in doing so.

Myth 3: Polygraph tests are only used to detect lies

Polygraphs are often associated with the mere detection of lies, but this is not their only use. In the context of police positions, they are also used to assess a candidate’s honesty, integrity, and suitability for the job.


Other methods used in the police hiring process

A lie detector examiner interprets the findings

Most police departments use a combination of methods:

One of the most common is psychological evaluation. This involves assessing mental health, personality traits, and overall suitability for the job. It can help identify any red flags or potential obstacles that may not be immediately apparent from other aspects of the hiring process.

Another method is background checking. This tends to involve looking at criminal history, driving records, credit history, and other relevant information. It can help guarantee that people with criminal activity or other complications are not hired.

In addition to these, some departments carry out physical fitness tests, medical evaluations, or interviews to evaluate candidates. The goal is to create a broad picture of each candidate and make the most effective decision possible.


Factors police departments should consider

The advantages and disadvantages of these methods compared to polygraph testing

When comparing psychological evaluations and background checks to polygraphs, there are several upsides and downsides to consider.


  • They are generally considered more reliable at predicting job performance and identifying potential red flags.
  • They are less invasive and stressful than polygraph testing, which can reduce the risk of false positives or false negatives due to anxiety or other factors.
  • They can provide a more comprehensive picture of a candidate’s mental health, personal history, and character traits that may impact their ability to perform the job or interact with the public.
  • They are less prone to legal challenges and controversy than polygraphs, which has been criticized for its potential for discrimination.



  • They may not detect certain types of deception or misconduct that polygraphs are designed to identify, such as drug use, theft, or other criminal activity.
  • They can be time-consuming and expensive to administer, which may limit their practicality in high-volume hiring situations.
  • They may also raise specific privacy concerns or legal issues related to discrimination, especially if the criteria used to evaluate candidates are not job-related or consistent with legal guidelines.
  • They may not be standardized or consistently applied across different jurisdictions or agencies, which can affect their reliability and validity.


The potential for using a combination of methods to improve reliability and accuracy

By using a combination of these, law enforcement agencies can better ensure that the candidates they hire are both qualified and trustworthy. However, there is always a risk of making a mistake. It is therefore necessary to continuously evaluate and improve the hiring process over time.

Also to ensure that these methods are used ethically and in compliance with laws.



The polygraph test is frequently used in the police hiring process to assess a candidate’s honesty and integrity. While it is not perfect, it can provide significant information when used in conjunction with other screening methods.

One of this article’s main points is that it is only one of several techniques used in the recruiting process. Background checks, interviews, and psychological exams are also relied upon to determine eligibility for the position.

Another point to remember is that it is used to assess credibility rather than to determine guilt or innocence.


What do they ask you on police polygraph test?
The specific questions may vary, but they generally pertain to the applicant’s background, criminal history, drug use, and other potentially disqualifying factors.
Yes, the New York Police Department (NYPD) may use polygraph tests as part of their pre-employment screening process or during internal investigations.
The questions asked will depend on the purpose of the test. For pre-employment screening, they may be related to qualifications and background. For investigations, they may be related to the specific incident or alleged misconduct.
Polygraph tests typically involve both yes or no questions and more open-ended questions that require a more detailed response.
Nervousness alone is not enough to cause someone to fail a polygraph test, but it can potentially affect the results if excessively anxious or agitated during the test. It is important to remain calm and focused to ensure accurate results.
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