Using their own words against them

By Ed Brock

The simple act of running a finger along the side of the subject's face sends spikes through a blue line on a monitor before Clayton County's new police polygraph expert Sgt. Robbie Frederick.

The blue line represents electro-dermal feedback from the subject's sweat glands, detected by two metal sensors strapped to the subject's fingertips. Two heavy, spring-like cords embrace the subject's chest to measure changes in respiration while a cuff on the arm measures heart rate and blood volume.

And don't ever call it a lie detector in front of Frederick.

"It's a psycho physiological detection of deception exam," Frederick said.

A 16-year veteran of the department, 40-year-old Frederick recently left his position with the county police department as sergeant in charge of crimes against persons to attend the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute at Army Fort Jackson near Columbia, S.C.

He was there from April 28 to July 29.

"I've been trying to get into polygraph school since 1994," Frederick said. "I was just really thankful and surprised that they sent me to that school."

Frederick's classmates at the institute came from agencies like the CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service and the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Two people flunked the class that Frederick described as the most intense of its kind.

"The course is accepted as a graduate level course toward my master's degree in forensic psychology," he said.

Now he is putting in a yearlong internship with the county's current polygraph expert Sgt. Ron Evans. That's something that is no longer required by state law.

"What we're trying to do is adhere to federal standards and those require a one-year internship," Frederick said. "That way if the law changes we'll already be in compliance."

Evans, 52, has been administering polygraphs for 20 years. He's spent 32 years in law enforcement, 29 of those with the county.

"I'm really proud of (Frederick). He's learned a lot," Evans said. "His first criminal exam was a rather serious child molestation case."

In that case investigators were able to extract a confession from the subject after Frederick's exam showed signs of deception. That saved taxpayers the expense of a trial as the subject will most likely plead guilty, Evans said.

And the results of a polygraph exam can be used in court, Evans and Frederick say. Both men say that polygraph technology has improved greatly in recent years.

"The test sequence is set up and then we ask some non-threatening questions. We establish a norm (of responses from the sensors)," Frederick said. "Then you're just looking for a change."

As part of his training at the institute, Army soldiers were ordered to commit a fake murder and then commanded not to tell anybody about it.

"Then I spend the next three hours trying to get him to talk even though he's been ordered not to," Frederick said.

The reactions monitored by the test are unconscious and uncontrollable, Evans and Frederick said.

"If I can drop a rattlesnake in your lap and you can sit there and not be afraid you might defeat this test," Evans said.

Interrogation techniques are the most important part of the training, Frederick said, learning how to use the information from the test to extract a confession. A person cannot be compelled to take a polygraph but many accused people elect to do so.

So far Frederick has administered 14 tests on the job, three of which were criminal cases, all involving child molestation charges. In all of those criminal cases the subject flunked the test and then confessed.

"That's as good as it gets and it won't last for long," Frederick said.

The department also administers polygraph tests as part of the pre-employment requirements for the department and outside agencies and for other, special cases.

After Frederick's internship is complete, Evans and he will work together for at least a year before Evans retires. The new police headquarters under construction will include two polygraph rooms where they will both be strapping on the electrodes in search of the truth.