Episode 32: The Polygraph, with Retired New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Thomas Paret
Retired New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Thomas Paret, formerly of the state police's polygraph unit, explains to Karen what a polygraph is, its purpose, and what it measures. Please note, this episode was recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:36] Hi, everyone, and welcome back to “You Matter”, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host, Karen Ortman, Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Today, I'm happy to introduce New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Retired, Thomas Paret, former head of the New Jersey State Police Polygraph Unit. Lieutenant Paret is going to explain what a polygraph is, its purpose and what it measures. Lieutenant Paret, thank you for joining me today on “You Matter”.
Thomas Paret [00:01:19] Thank you so much for having me, Karen, I appreciate it.
Karen Ortman [00:01:22] So if you could explain what a polygraph actually is.
Thomas Paret [00:01:28] Sure. So by definition, it is commonly known as a lie detector, more commonly for your listening audience. But more importantly, by definition, it is a device or an instrument that measures physiological responses to questions that are asked.
Karen Ortman [00:01:48] Okay. And what is the device upon which a polygraph examination is administered? I'm sure a lot of our listeners have heard through Hollywood and, you know, all of the media television, heard the term polygraph or lie detector but don’t know exactly how or upon what machinery, if you will, or technology, a polygraph is actually administered.
Thomas Paret [00:02:18] Sure. So within the New Jersey State Police, we utilize all of our examiners. We have five examiners. We utilize the same instrument. The Lafayette LX 4000 is what we utilize. And we're presently in the position to upgrade those. Prior to me retiring, we were looking to upgrade those instruments to the LX 6000. What your audience is probably more familiar with is the old analog instruments that have the pin, the needles with the ink and doing the tracings right on a continuous flow of paper. And we did have those way back prior to me getting into the unit, back in 2006 we did utilize those.
Karen Ortman [00:03:02] Yeah, I remember those.
Thomas Paret [00:03:03] Yes. And quite actually, like anything else with technology, advancements were made. And now it's usually utilized with a laptop and a small rectangular box, which is actually the polygraph. And it has the components attached to that. So for portability, it was much easier for us to travel and traverse the state because we go anywhere from down in Cape May, all the way up to North Jersey, the border of
New York and Pennsylvania. We cover the whole state and there’s only five of us. So for portability purposes, it really helped us out when those advancements came out.
Karen Ortman [00:03:39] Yeah. So no longer do you have the pens or those Sharpie tugboats kind of making those ink designs on graph paper.
Thomas Paret [00:03:52] Yeah. No, thank God. And you know what it was? There was an art to that and in watching them being even set up where you'd have to physically fill each one with ink. And yeah, it was it was it was something that your audience were probably more familiar with, with the old movies and everything that was out regarding polygraph.
Karen Ortman [00:04:12] Yeah. So with the new model that you're talking about, I recall with the old one there were almost like probes attached to the examinee.
Thomas Paret [00:04:24] Sure. Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:04:25] With the new model, is there any sort of connection of that device to the person being examined?
Thomas Paret [00:04:33] Sure. So the components that are placed on you. So you would have - so anybody that would take a polygraph exam can expect these components to be placed on them and each component is explained during the process of the polygraph examination. So the examinee kind of knows what he's going to be experiencing during that time with the examiner. So you have a component that's placed like a standard blood pressure cuff. And what that's measuring is the blood pressure volume that's flowing, you know, that's going on in your body in a physiological response. In addition to that, we have two pneumo tubes which are strapped across your chest, one upper and one lower.
Karen Ortman [00:05:14] And what purpose do they serve?
Thomas Paret [00:05:16] Sure, so that's measuring the changes in your breathing when a question is being asked, part of that physiological response to a threatening question that's being asked to you, which would happen during the course of the polygraph exam. In addition to that, there's two plates that are placed on your fingertips and they're called galvanic skin response. And what that is, it's measuring the sweat gland activity within your body. Again, when a threatening question is being asked to you, what it triggers, part of the process and the philosophy behind it and what it measures is, is basically that threatening question that triggers your autonomic nervous system, creates these physiological reactions within your body. And that's what the polygraph actually measures.
Karen Ortman [00:06:03] Can you manufacture those reactions?
Thomas Paret [00:06:06] No. But what can happen is people could try to deceive the polygraph. And if you go on YouTube, you'll be able to see how to beat a polygraph. So in doing that, what you'll get back is countless examples of people saying that what you want to try to do is manufacture those responses either by movement or by a physical kind of clenching of your cheeks or clenching of a muscle. But I could tell you anytime that that is done, anytime that that is done, the instrument’s so precise, you're able to see that and you're able to see that it's not a natural, physiological response. And the timing of those questions - so the idea is to elicit a greater response. So let's say you were guilty of, you had stolen money from your work, we'll use a theft example, and you were taking a
polygraph. So what you would see on YouTube and the instructions to to kind of deceive those reactions would be when the control question comes, identify when the control questions come. And what a person would do is try to elicit those, try to manufacture those responses. And I can tell you in monitoring this, any untrained person would see that that's manufactured. In addition to that, the technology has caught up with a lot of those attempts. So what we do now is we'll have what's commonly known as a butt pad. So the person would sit down on that and it's a movement detector. So you would be able to detect any movement. So in addition to that, it's an additional component that's placed and the person would sit there. Any type of movement, it would elicit a response on there. And you're able to gauge whether it's a person's natural physiological response or a countermeasure done purposely to try to deceive it. But I got to tell you, the machine is very accurate. And for me, I tell everybody that sits there, if you did what you did, the best way to beat a polygraph is to not take it, right.
Karen Ortman [00:08:14] So let's talk about the examination itself and how you become involved. Can you walk our listeners through, you know, who contacts you, presumably at the law enforcement agency and what their request is?
Thomas Paret [00:08:30] Yeah, sure. So we handle requests within the state police. I was the unit head there. We would handle any exam for state, federal and municipal, county.
Any investigation that was being conducted or any investigation. So what would typically happen is we would get a call from the detective. Well, so let's say the crime was a theft. They may have two, three, multiple persons that they want examined. So they would call the office or call the detectives and have that request put through. So I would get some basic information. If that exam is viable at this time, if the person is polygraph liable, for instance, I would get the actual case information, the background about the case.
Sometimes they call for a polygraph a little too early. I would say in those instances, maybe do a little more interview, do a little more legwork, and then we go back to the polygraph. But ordinarily, when we would get a call from these detectives, they've utilized us before and they were ready to go with the polygraph. So in most instances, geographically, so if it was a department down in South Jersey, we have a south examiner that would go and handle that one. And I would send that request to one of our examiners if they didn't receive it directly from the investigator. So at that point they would respond to that department. So in booking the actual polygraph itself, we take into consideration our schedule, the schedule of the investigator, but in addition the schedule of the examinee.
We're very flexible in our department, in the state police. We don't carry a caseload. So what that basically means is that all we do is polygraph. So if that person says, look, I want to clear my name, I want to. I had nothing to do with this theft. However, I can't miss a day of work. Can we do it after five or six? Sure. Absolutely. Our detectives are available 24/7, which is great in that respect. And we're able to go and accommodate and facilitate a test and carry that out based on everybody's schedule.
Karen Ortman [00:10:40] Okay. So you agreed to conduct a polygraph examination. And when that happens, you go to the department who made the request, correct?
Thomas Paret [00:10:53] Yes. That’s correct.
Karen Ortman [00:10:54] So it could be anywhere in the state of New Jersey.
Thomas Paret [00:10:55] That's correct. Yes. We travel.
Karen Ortman [00:10:59] And based upon the facts provided to you regarding the case, I know that, because I've worked with you in the past on investigations, there are a series of questions that are developed and some are relevant questions and some are control questions.
Thomas Paret [00:11:17] That's correct.
Karen Ortman [00:11:17] Can you address the difference between the two and how you come up with the questions for each, relevant and control.
Thomas Paret [00:11:30] Yes, sure. I'll start with the relevant questions. So the relevant questions are based upon the crime that has been alleged. So let's stick with the theme of the money. So the question formulation is very important, right? So there was theft from a warehouse, let's just say a warehouse safe and $5000 was taken. Now the typical question that you would ask anyone, not being polygraph certified or what have you, “Did you take the money?” Right. So in formulating that question, it's the same, it's no different for us. “Did you take any of the missing money?” Because that would be from $1 all the way up to the full five thousand. So we would ask that question of that person. That is your typical relevant question. So for the exam that we give, we have three relevant questions that we ask and our coverage of those are, “Did you do it?” And then we rephrase that, “Are you the person that did it?” And we also cover knowledge. So let's say they didn't do it. But you know what? They know for sure that their friend did it. So he came to them and said, look, here's $50. Don't say a word. I took some. I took that money. We're good, right? So that person has knowledge. Did they do it? No, but they know. So we cover that as well. So the third relevant question that would be, typically in the tests that I administer would be, “Do you know for sure who took any of that missing money?” Now, the key in that question formulation is the word “for sure”, only because they could suspect people, you could suspect 100 people of committing this crime. That person that just suspects but does not have that intimate knowledge of that crime being committed would more than likely pass that test, no doubt in my mind. However, if they did know who did it, that's where that keyword “for sure” in there comes into play. So that eliminates any suspicion.
The only way that they would know is if they were told, they participated in it, they helped in some way. They did it themselves. So it covers everything. So those are your relevant questions. So in respect to that, they're measured against control questions now. Your control question would be something that, and I'll just give you an example of a control question. “Have you ever cheated on an exam in your life?” “Have you ever cheated?” “Have you ever committed a crime that the police do not know about”, which is a great control question a lot of times.
Karen Ortman [00:13:56] Now, what makes that a control question?
Thomas Paret [00:13:59] So in speaking in terms of control questions, it's something that that person sitting in front of you more than likely has committed, has done, and will come across as well as not wanting to share that with you. So in a lot of cases, there's other tests where we tell them we'll use a directed lie question. Look, during this question, I'm going to ask you this question. I want you just to say no to it, lie to it, knowing that in terms they may have cheated on an exam going by, but they don't want to admit that to you. So in terms of that control question, once that control is set, a person that did not commit that crime could care less about, “Did you steal any of the missing money?” What they're more concerned about is the, “Did you cheat on that exam?” So physiologically, all of their reactions and their greatest threat is going to be on that control question. And that's what
makes a truthful person truthful. Then you have the other side of the coin where a person just stole $5000, is facing jail time, is facing discovery by the other people within that warehouse, has a lot riding on that question. Could care less about cheating on that exam and probably who's going to answer no to that anyway. There's going to be a slight reaction, but the greater reaction is going to be on that control question. So getting back to that, that's where we make that determination. We're able to score that if the greater reaction is on the control question, you're going to have a deceptive person. And conversely, if they score and have a greater reaction on the control, then you have a truthful.
Karen Ortman [00:15:39] And isn't it true that prior to the relevant and control question that's being asked, the examinee is aware of all questions prior to the administration of the exam?
Thomas Paret [00:15:53] Absolutely. And what we do as a matter of procedure, what occurs through the polygraph exam, the most important part, number one, is to advise a person that the polygraph is voluntary. Nobody could force you to take it. You're there to clear your name. This is an instrument that they use to do that. You know, you referred to it as a lie detector, within our unit, we also call it a truth verifier because the majority of our tests are truthful.
Karen Ortman [00:16:18] So when you see, I'm sorry to interrupt-
Thomas Paret [00:16:20] No, no, go ahead.
Karen Ortman [00:16:22] In Hollywood and in the movies, and on television, someone being forcibly administered this examination, that is completely Hollywood-ized.
Thomas Paret [00:16:35] Yes. Hollywood-ized. Yeah. Well, you know what? I do understand. I'll tell you why. Because, you know, time is money on film. So I get that. And I have a lot of respect for that. But you know, at times polygraph I don’t feel is portrayed in the right sense on TV. And I understand, you know, the theory behind it. But if you notice on TV, two things that you see that really stand out, the person, number one, isn't told it's voluntary. So, you know, anybody watching it, the general public thinks that they're in a position where they have to take it. In addition to that, in regards to a crime, so in addition to that, you know, the questions aren't reviewed with the person. So it seems like a surprise, they're waiting for that next question to come out, they have no idea what's coming their way. You know, and they get into the theatrics of it all. But even in addition to that, you have a situation where the questions aren't, they don't have the knowledge of the questions being asked. And the questions that are formulated are not formulated in a yes or no response. It might be, but the person goes on and, you know, gives a sentence of a response. The polygraph is yes or no. And that's it. So they’ll ask the question, and they'll go into a, you know, a five minute dissertation in their answer, which isn’t - you would stop the test right there and re-instruct that person that it's yes or no.
Karen Ortman [00:17:58] Yeah. So you mentioned earlier, the viability of a polygraph. So what would make a case not viable for a polygraph? What are the factors that you consider?
Thomas Paret [00:18:15] Sure, well it depends. Mainly it's the person, right, the examinee, the person that we're examining. So we're fortunate within our unit, I'm bilingual. I speak
Spanish. We have another Spanish examiner as well. And so that helps out. To do a polygraph with a translator, it's very difficult to do. So that's one thing that we consider. And another avenue that we consider is the age of the examinee. As a general rule of thumb, for our unit, we stick strong to the age of 14 and older and mainly because of understanding, maturity, understanding the process. We wouldn't want them to, you know, kind of go into a situation that they don't fully understand. So typically that's a good cut off. In addition to that, females that are pregnant. So we don't test females that are pregnant, we’ll wait, have the baby, mother and daughter are feeling fine. They could always come back for that. That's not an issue now. And the reason being is stress - it’s stressful. Any time you walk into a police station, you feel that stress right away. During our pretests, we try to alleviate a lot of that stress and take a lot of that out of there, that threat of the unknown and the feeling of the unknown. And that weighs heavy on anybody, especially somebody that's carrying and that's pregnant. So, you know, in addition to that, there's also physiological responses where you would have two heartbeats. So there would be interesting charts with somebody who is pregnant. So we stay away from that as well. And so we will always wait. So that's not even an issue. So that's what we really measure that on, the understanding. And each examiner, once they're sitting in front of an examinee, could get that feeling of whether that person is fully understanding of everything that's going on. And they may report back to me, they say, “Look, you know, I sat here for an hour with him. I don't believe he fully understands.” And in erring on the side of fairness, we step away from that and do not administer the polygraph.
Karen Ortman [00:20:21] So it sounds like your position is that the polygraph examination can actually be used for constructive purposes, which is not often considered when people talk about a polygraph examination and they very quickly jump to that sort of antiquated thought that it’s a lie detector and it's there to sort of catch you in a lie when in reality, at least when you and I have worked together, it seems like the polygraph was used as a constructive tool to identify truthfulness, not necessarily deceptiveness.
Thomas Paret [00:21:09] Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think, you know, for us, our philosophy, within our unit we all had the same philosophy. The majority of our examinations were truthful, as I stated earlier, and we would go in there and you know, what the results were within that examination was, you know, it is what it is. And a lot of times it's not the most popular decision within that room. But I could tell you that for us, our examiners were very independent of the investigation, had no vested interest in there, and the only reason to go there was to find the truth. Sometimes it didn't agree with what the detective wanted, or thought, I should say, how the results would pan out. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. So for us, I got to tell you, Karen, you know, we would go into an investigation. I'll give you a quick example. I had a homicide where this was their guy and this was their number one person that they felt a person of interest. I polygraphed this guy. And he was very truthful. I came out of that room and, you know, it set their investigation back a little bit because now they had other people that they had to look for. But in fact, it was the truth. It was the right call because they wound up getting the actual guy who committed the homicide. And he in fact confessed to it so that gave what we call ground truth and we're able to move on from there. So there's, you know, a little bit of a confirmation bias. We try to stay away from and really focus in on what our determination is within that room, most importantly.
Karen Ortman [00:22:48] Is there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners about polygraphs? I actually have one more question before you respond to that.
So you mentioned criminal matters. Do you ever get involved in non-criminal cases for polygraph purposes?
Thomas Paret [00:23:05] Yes. Well, not while I was working. Now that I have my own polygraph business, I do. There's matrimonial, other types of investigations.
Karen Ortman [00:23:16] Sure, like employment.
Thomas Paret [00:23:17] Yes. And things like that. But for the New Jersey State Police. No, not at all. It was all criminal. All criminal matters that we had.
Karen Ortman [00:23:26] Anything else you'd like to share with our listeners about polygraphs now?
Thomas Paret [00:23:29] No, and listen, I give this advice to everybody. You know, if you didn't commit the crime that they're asking with respect to the polygraph, it's such an extensive process. Don't expect to be there for, you know, five minutes and be put on the instrument. It's time consuming and that works to your benefit. So you're going to know the questions that are asked of you. You know what your rights are. You're going to know what the questions are going to be asked. You know, everything is going to be explained to you, how the polygraph works, what it measures, everything before you're even placed on that. You can have a lengthy conversation, which we call a pretest. You're going to get someone to tell your side of the story. The questions are going to be formulated. All of that is going to be done prior to you even having those components placed on you. But be aware that once you do, once you're ready to take the polygraph, you know everything.
You'll have all that information. There won't be any surprises, no surprise questions. And the results are what they are. So, yes, there is no issue there.
Karen Ortman [00:24:34] Right. Well, thank you. Thank you to my guest, Lieutenant Paret, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of “You Matter”. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their victim services unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to “You Matter” on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify and Tune-In.