The Complete Guide to Polygraph Tests in the Police Hiring Process: 2023

If you are considering a career in law enforcement, you may be required to undergo a pre-employment screening process that includes a polygraph test, or lie detector test, which is often used by police departments in the United States as part of the hiring process.

The use of polygraph testing in the hiring process for police positions has been in practice since the early 1900s. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that polygraph testing became more widely adopted as a standard part of the hiring process for law enforcement.

A Woman Undergoing A Polygraph Test

Polygraph tests are based on the assumption that physiological responses, such as heart rate and blood pressure, might reveal whether or not a person is telling the truth. The questions are designed to elicit responses that indicate whether you are telling the truth or not, This frequently includes questions about your background, qualifications, and eligibility for the job in the subject field.

While polygraph tests are commonly used in the police hiring process, they are not without controversy. Many critics argue that polygraph tests are not reliable indicators of honesty and can produce false positives or false negatives. In fact, the American Psychological Association has stated that “the diagnostic accuracy of the polygraph for identifying deception is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee selection.”

Despite these criticisms, many police departments in the United States continue to use polygraph tests as a tool to assess a candidate’s honesty and integrity. Some departments may also use other types of pre-employment screening tests, such as psychological evaluations or drug screenings, in addition to the polygraph test.

It is important to note that the use of polygraph tests in the police hiring process is not uniform across all police departments in the United States. Some departments may place more emphasis on the polygraphs, while others may rely more heavily on the other forms of pre-employment screening. Additionally, the use of polygraph tests in the police hiring process may be influenced by state and local laws and regulations.

This article aims to give you a clear and detailed understanding of the factors that are considered in the police hiring process. By the end, you will have a better understanding of how the police hiring process works and the role that polygraph tests can play in it.



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

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

The use of polygraph tests in the police hiring process is based on the assumption that if an individual is willing to be dishonest during the testing process, they are likely to be dishonest in other aspects of their life, including their work as a police officer.

There are a number of reasons why police departments may choose to use polygraph tests in their hiring process. For one, the job of a police officer is one of great responsibility, and it is crucial 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 decision. By using polygraph tests in the hiring process, police departments hope to identify individuals who have a high level of emotional stability and who are able to remain calm and focused under pressure.

Finally, the use of polygraph tests in the police hiring process can help to deter individuals who may be tempted to engage in unethical or illegal behavior. The knowledge that they will be subjected to a polygraph test may serve as a deterrent for those who would otherwise be inclined to engage in such behavior.


Types of questions are typically asked in a police polygraph test

The questions asked during a polygraph test for a police position may vary depending on the department and the specific position for which you are applying. However, there are some common types of questions that are typically asked.

One type of question you may be asked is related to your personal history. You may be asked about any criminal activity or involvement with law enforcement, as well as any prior drug use or addiction. You may also be asked about your financial history, including any outstanding debts or bankruptcies.

Another type of question you may be asked is related to your qualifications for the position. You may be asked about your 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.

In addition to these, you may also be asked about your personal values and character, such as your views on honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior. You may also be asked about your past experiences with conflict resolution and your ability to maintain composure in stressful situations.


How to Prepare for a Polygraph Test for a Police Position

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

  • Understanding the Process: Before taking the polygraph test, it is important to understand the process. The examiner will typically start by explaining the test and answering any questions you may have. You will then be asked a series of questions that are designed to elicit a physiological response. The examiner will monitor your physical responses throughout the test 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 during the test and avoid any unnecessary movements.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that may interfere with your physiological responses. You should also 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 of a polygraph test are not necessarily definitive, many police departments give them substantial weight.

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

It’s important to note that polygraph tests are not 100% accurate and can produce false positives or false negatives. This means that even if you are telling the truth, you may still fail the test, which can be frustrating and potentially damaging.

Additionally, some critics of polygraph tests 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 a polygraph test, it’s important to 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 about Polygraph Tests for Police Positions

An examinee attached to a polygraph machine

Myth 1: Polygraph tests are invasive

A common myth about polygraph tests is that they are invasive and intrusive. While it is true that the test involves attaching sensors to the body to measure 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 people believe that they can fool a polygraph test by being a skilled liar. However, this is not true. Polygraph examiners are trained to detect signs of deception and unusual physiological responses; the test is designed 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 unless they’ve had substantial training to do so by a certain organization.

Myth 3: Polygraph tests are only used to detect lies

Polygraph tests are often associated with the detection of lies, but this is not their only use. In the context of police positions, polygraph tests 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

Polygraph tests are not the only method used to assess candidates. In fact, most police departments use a combination of methods.

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

Another method is a background check. This can involve looking at a candidate’s criminal history, driving record, credit history, and other relevant information. It can help ensure that candidates with a history of criminal activity or other issues that may make them unsuitable for the job are not hired.

In addition to these methods, some police departments may also use physical fitness tests, medical evaluations, or interviews to assess candidates. The goal is to create a comprehensive picture of each candidate and make the most informed decision possible.


The advantages and disadvantages of these methods compared to polygraph testing

When comparing psychological evaluations and background checks to polygraph testing, there are several advantages and disadvantages 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 polygraph testing, which has been criticized for its potential for discrimination.



  • They may not detect certain types of deception or misconduct that polygraph testing is 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 the reliability and accuracy of hiring decisions

While polygraph tests, psychological evaluations, and background checks all have their own strengths and weaknesses, a combination of these methods can help to improve the reliability and accuracy of hiring decisions.

By using a combination of these methods, law enforcement agencies can better ensure that the candidates they hire are both qualified and trustworthy. However, it is important to note that no hiring process is foolproof, and there is always a risk of making a mistake. It is therefore crucial to continuously evaluate and improve the hiring process over time.

It is also important to ensure that these methods are used ethically and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. For example, the use of polygraph tests may be restricted or prohibited in certain jurisdictions or for certain types of positions.



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

One of the article’s main points is that the polygraph test is only one of several techniques used in the recruiting process. Background checks, interviews, and psychological exams are also used to assess a candidate’s suitability for the position.

Another important aspect to remember is that the polygraph test is used to assess a candidate’s honesty rather than to determine guilt or innocence.

Ultimately, the decision to use polygraph tests in police hiring processes is up to individual departments and agencies. However, it is important for these organizations to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of polygraphs and to weigh them against other factors.

Share and Support Us in Reaching the Right People:
Accelerating Solid Intelligence, One Person at a Time.

Welcome to Axeligence, your trusted partner for intelligence, investigation, and polygraph consulting services.

Accelerating Solid Intelligence, One Person at a Time.

*Please be patient as we are in the process of translating all of our content.


We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.