back to article Gullible Essex Police are now using junk science lie detectors

Police in Essex, UK, are using polygraph tests on convicted criminals – in its own words, “to help manage the risk posed by convicted sex offenders.” A polygraph, colloquially known as a lie-detector test, measures the physiological responses of subjects when interrogated. The technology was invented in 1921, by John Larson, …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "submit further investigative divination practices to Essex Police"

    I have a proven process derived from extensive viewing of The Mentalist that I would be willing to offer training on. It's only an eight-week course and I'll only bill a paltry $250,000 for the service.

  2. Aaiieeee
    Coat

    Did they get a discount on a job lot of those bomb detection wands?

  3. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Ethics in Essex

    "He agreed to take part and when questioned about the results of the polygraph, he admitted he had reoffended."

    If the offender thought that polygraphs were valid, I'm not surprised he made the admission. All the cops have to do is point to some spurious squiggle and raise an eyebrow.

    It wouldn't be very ethical, I know. But it's not like a consideration for ethics has ever stopped them before.

    1. Alexander J. Martin
      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Ethics in Essex

        Indeed, Bunk's photocopier trick in The Wire springs to mind.

        The trick has a pedigree going back much further than that. I first remember reading about it in Private Eye around ten years ago, and indeed it looks like it can be traced back almost 30 years before that.

        I feel old now.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Goes back much further

          At least to a sooty cock in a darkened room used to catch a thief.

          1. Amias

            Re: Goes back much further

            This needs explanation as its not safe to google

            1. teebie

              Re: Goes back much further

              "At least to a sooty cock in a darkened room used to catch a thief."

              "This needs explanation as its not safe to google"

              A suspected sex offender was invited to go into a darkened room and 'izzy wizzy lets get busy' with and innocent bear.

              (Google "The Story Of An Early American Lie Detector Test" for a more traditional account of the story)

              1. Doogs

                Re: Goes back much further

                I think it's more likely that Richard 12 is referring to John Napier's method of using a soot-covered rooster to detect a thief.

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Ethics in Essex

        >Bunk's photocopier trick in The Wire springs to mind.

        and of course it doesn't have to work (producing reliable or evidence-worthy results).

        The question is, do the crooks know it doesn't work and if they don't will it save more money in police time than it costs?

        Even if it isn't used as evidence, perhaps for the number of times it gives some indication of potential discomfort, it might indicate possible avenues the police could investigate.

        The fact that it can (often?) give false negatives or positives may not actually be an issue if it isn't going to be used for evidence.

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Ethics in Essex

      In the US, the Supreme Court ruled that the police can lie to suspects to get them to confess. That is why the smarter suspects clam up and refuse to say squat without a lawyer.

    3. Steve Evans

      Re: Ethics in Essex

      So this relied on the "perp" having little or no knowledge of the law, or legal representation...?

      All he had to do was deny everything, stick to his story, and no matter what the squiggle said, he would have been in the clear.

      Well I guess it's true what they say, prisons are full of stupid criminals. The smart ones are still living in the outside world.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ethics in Essex

        "Well I guess it's true what they say, prisons are full of stupid criminals. The smart ones are still living in the outside world."

        And even running for or holding public office...

    4. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Ethics in Essex

      "He agreed to take part and when questioned about the results of the polygraph, he admitted he had reoffended."

      And if he hadn't agreed?

      Cops: "So, you won't take the polygraph... but did you get Mr Percy out in the park?"

      Sex pest: "No."

      Cops: "Fair enough, here's your dirty mac, now off you go."

  4. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Obviously child abusers can be dealt with by Rolfing.

    No, hang on a moment ...

    1. Mint Sauce

      Hah ha, took me a few seconds to join up all the dots on that one. Have an upvote for the chuckle :-)

  5. Kane Silver badge

    Location...

    "Essex Police did not respond to questions from The Register asking where the officers were given this training by the time of publication."

    Could it be this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Location...

      I've lived in Lafayette IN for 35 years and never knew that we had a polygraph company here...

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

        Re: Location...

        I've lived in Lafayette IN for 35 years and never knew that we had a polygraph company here...

        There isn't one. The previous comment was a lie.

        Now let's see if anyone can prove that.

        1. Steve Evans

          Re: Location...

          ____/\/\/\/\/\/\____

          LIE!

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    The Only way is the Essex Way

    Soon, it will be a Chav honour to have been through the lie detector down the nick.

    I wonder if the other Ned Kelly is turning in his grave.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Soon, it will be a Chav honour to have been through the lie detector down the nick.

      And naturally to have been completely guilty while coming up clean on the machine.

      "I wonder if the other Ned Kelly is turning in his grave."

      Strewth, mate I reckon he'd be choked it was that easy.

      1. Bloakey1

        Re: Soon, it will be a Chav honour to have been through the lie detector down the nick.

        "Strewth, mate I reckon he'd be choked it was that easy."

        Fair Dinkum.

        I was watching Portuguese telly recently and as is my wont I was checking the quality of the subtitle translations below. When the term Fair Dinkum was used they translated it to "Faire Dinkum" which as we all know is French and means to do dinkum.

        My how I laughed.

    2. teebie

      Re: The Only way is the Essex Way

      For Jeremy Kyle reasons, I think it already is Chav honour to have been through the lie detector

  7. James 51

    I just finished reading Homicide. It goes into how theatre like this can be used to intimidate the ignorant. I wonder what will happen the first time someone gets banged up for violated the terms of their release based solely on the polygraph and it is later proved that the polygraph was incorrect.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Simple: choose the right question

      Did you steal a cookie from the jar by your neighbour's kitchen sink at 10:30 yesterday?

      Have you ever take something you that perhaps you shouldn't have?

      1. James 51
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Simple: choose the right question

        It is important to remember in these situations that a sense of humour and by extension a statement no matter how hilarious it may be, should not be issued.

    2. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Sociopaths? Timid rabbits? Otatoheads?

      Polygraphs are based on physical changes that happen when a person is uncomfortable or uneasy or on edge, i.e. when lying. But some people can lie as fast as a dog can trot without a flicker of change in pulse of sweat or breathing. And some others are so nervous and timid that saying their true name can have them all a-quiver. And others are very dim and can easily be confused and flustered. What can possibly be gained by a bit of equipment that records physical changes and claims they consistently derive from lying or equivocation?

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Sociopaths? Timid rabbits? Otatoheads?

        And some others are so nervous and timid that saying their true name can have them all a-quiver.

        Well of course it would! Telling someone your true name gives them mystical power over you.

        This is why I never introduce myself to anyone as Rich11. God's teeth! You wouldn't believe what power some idiots give away...

      2. lpcollier

        Re: Sociopaths? Timid rabbits? Otatoheads?

        What can be gained? It's theatre. The polygraph doesn't need to work, people need to *believe* that it works. It's essentially the same principle that homeopathy "works" - it's a huge placebo effect. The problem is, it only works by intimidating people into telling the truth, and trusting the examiner to recognise the truth when they hear it. Where the technology becomes a problem is when the examiner and others begin to believe the results are authoritative, and trust the machine when the suspect is telling the truth and the machine says they aren't. It's the technological equivalent of the bad cop / good cop gun to the head routine - if you pull the trigger, it's all over.

    3. MonkeyCee

      Confessions

      "I wonder what will happen the first time someone gets banged up for violated the terms of their release based solely on the polygraph and it is later proved that the polygraph was incorrect."

      It will never happen. It's certainly not whats happened here.

      The suspect confessed to a violation of parole. That's what the evidence is. If they want to retract the confession, they will probably have to show some reason for it. If this is "I was being whacked over the head with the yellow pages" then the confession will (hopefully) be thrown out. If it's from something that is considered an acceptable interrogation technique, then it's acceptable.

      So if you have two suspects in custody, it is usually acceptable to say things like "your mate is busy telling us everything and is going to get a sweet deal" or "you totally done it, we know you done it, confess now and we'll go easier on you" or "if you don't 'fess up, we're going to arrest your mum/nan/child since one of you lot done it". Saying "I know you're lying, I have magic powers/technology" is probably fine too.

      As an aside, it's often pretty easy for me to tell if someone is being deceptive. When your safety depends on reading people's intentions it's instinctive, and I'd imagine most LEOs have something similar. Determining exactly what that deception is covering up is a whole other ball game.

      I would also suggest that if you're talking to the cops and are guilty you should probably get a lawyer. If you are innocent then you REALLY should get a lawyer before answering. Or decline to assist until they arrest you.

      1. 's water music

        Re: Confessions

        The suspect confessed to a violation of parole. That's what the evidence is. If they want to retract the confession, they will probably have to show some reason for it

        Confessions are like eye-witness reports. They sound like they ought to be good evidence but they are not.

        As an aside, it's often pretty easy for me to tell if someone is being deceptive. When your safety depends on reading people's intentions it's instinctive, and I'd imagine most LEOs have something similar.

        Hmmn, LEOs who trust their 'instinctive' insights. We all have them, but the wisest of us know that they should always be critically challenged even if they are a useful heuristic in a time critical situation

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Confessions

        "When your safety depends on reading people's intentions it's instinctive, and I'd imagine most LEOs have something similar. Determining exactly what that deception is covering up is a whole other ball game."

        Like trusting their eyes to be able to tell the difference between a man holding a gun and a toy truck then shooting the black guy next to him anyway for good measure.

  8. AIBailey
    Joke

    "scanty and scientifically weak"

    Oh really? How come Jeremy Kyle states they're 98% accurate then? Unless you're calling him scientifically weak as well.

    Oh.... hang on.......

    As you were.

    1. maffski

      Re: "scanty and scientifically weak"

      'How come Jeremy Kyle states they're 98% accurate then?'

      I'd only believe him if he gave that 98% while taking a lie detector test.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

        Re: "scanty and scientifically weak"

        'How come Jeremy Kyle states they're 98% accurate then?'

        Given JKs demographic, maybe they're like Jedi mind tricks, and only truly effective on the weak minded.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Angel

        Re: "scanty and scientifically weak"

        "I'd only believe him if he gave that 98% while taking a lie detector test."

        It's not a lie if he really believes it.

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: "scanty and scientifically weak"

      Oh really? How come Jeremy Kyle states they're 98% accurate then? Unless you're calling him scientifically weak as well.

      Yeah... And even going by his own figures, on average, one in 50 of his lie detector shows has come up withe the wrong answer...

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: "scanty and scientifically weak"

        I have a memory of Jeremy Kyle saying that lie detectors are 95% accurate and then proceeding to test no fewer than 8 Suspects regarding who stole grandpa's savings or something.

        My maths isn't what it was but it seems to me that you have a 1/3 chance of getting the wrong answer in such a scenario!

  9. TRT Silver badge

    How does...

    a chart of tropical birds help catch a sex offender? Unless they're peristerophiles.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: How does...

      I only come here for the clever jokes. That, and the Guardian is currently full with gloating Ukippers.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: How does...

        They love a good gloat, don't they? They say, can we come and have a gloat? and we say No you can't you heartless gloaters.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I recommend we ask Mystic Meg, in fact she and her psychic ilk should become the sole deliverers of judgement in our humble nation.

    A fall back to reading tea leaves when a standard psychic is not available.

    1. Blank-Reg
      Go

      Thumbs up for reminding me mystic meg. Actually, it was for reminding me of Sceptic Peg

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I recommend we ask Mystic Meg [...]"

      It is interesting that she apparently first appeared on TV in 1994. The prescient film "Network" was 1976.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > The prescient film "Network"

        Watched this on DVD a couple of months ago as I kept on thinking that all the Trump/Saunders/Corbyn/Brexit thing seemed to be getting close to telling people to "open your window, stick your head out and shout 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not aking it any more!' " ... perhaps even more prescient in the light of Clinton's nomination and likely victory that the message was then subverted to be "we've had our fun with the individualism thing but its time now to see that the big corporations are the future and we should let them get on with it"

    3. NightFox

      Ahh Mystic Meg, always proving there WAS a happy medium after all.

  11. IsJustabloke
    WTF?

    Well that's all a bit Jeremy Kyle isn't it?

    They already had the "All important DNA results!"Now they've got the "all important lie detector results!"

    I wonder if they're resort to his patented "Go on be a man! tell the truth!" tactic as well

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well that's all a bit Jeremy Kyle isn't it?

      They also have the All Important PRNU Results! All hail our new forensic pseudo-science overlords!

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Well that's all a bit Jeremy Kyle isn't it?

        That should be 'All hail our new outsourced forensic pseudo-science overlords!'

        Which, naturally, will end well.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    psuedo-scientific

    and that ain't no lie.

    Anagram: Sceptic Unified So

    1. DJV Silver badge

      ain't no lie?

      Yes, it is - it's spelt "pseudo" :D

  13. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    When requested

    > which includes a condition that he must submit to a polygraph test when requested to do so by a police officer or delegated officer

    So is he being harassed on a daily or weekly basis?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: When requested

      No, no, no. Only on days when he's wearing a loud shirt in a built-up area. Or is being accompanied by an offensive wife.

  14. Swarthy
    Big Brother

    Prior Art?

    I think the BOFH did this a few years back.

    1. theModge

      Re: Prior Art?

      Quite a few years back indeed, I commend your memory. Still good episode. Though I'd at least have used hes_lieing.pptx for the detector....

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, lie detector, that's what it's called. Honest.

    Errm, officer, should the electrodes spark like that and why do you have to attach them to my genitals?

  16. Bernard M. Orwell

    .....sentencing was carried out according to the tarot draw, after due consultation with crystals and the scattering of animal entrails....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They'll bring back the ducking stool or the molten lead for trial by ordeal next.

      There seems to be a trend towards using civil law's "balance of probability" threshold to trigger a criminal conviction - when the criminal "beyond reasonable doubt" threshold has already failed to convict them.

  17. SomeoneInDelaware

    What they need

    is a palm-reader. Probably as accurate, and a lot quicker.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What they need

      It is but only if you have corroboration from a Phrenologist.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: What they need

        They'll be rehabilitating using retro-phrenology next.

        1. 's water music

          Re: What they need

          They'll be rehabilitating using retro-phrenology next.

          Sounds like a trepanner just took a marketing course

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: What they need

      Do you know what a palmist once said to me? She said, "Will you let go!"

  18. leaway2

    Penn and Teller episode www.imdb.com/title/tt1480498/

  19. Mr. Abelazar Woozle

    Maybe they could use divining rods, I'm sure they could pick up a few wire coathangers and a pair of pliers from the local Poundland and knock up a few sets?

    Haruspicy would be another option and a good way to keep the local air-rat population in check but there might be a few animal rights issues to consider....

  20. Flywheel Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Ned Kelly?

    Really? What were his parents thinking?!

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Ned Kelly?

      Hero worship, cobber.

  21. Lotaresco Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

    Witchcraft - build a shambles

    Cast yarrow stalks and interpret the pattern using the I-Ching

    Cast the runes

    Read tea leaves

    Osteomancy - the riddle of the bones

    Lithomancy - the riddle of the stones

    Gummibearomancy - the riddle of the empty packet

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

      Tyromancy - telling the future through cheese. (and no, I'm not making that one up)

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

        Tyropyrocereamancy - telling the future through cheese on toast (I am making that up).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

          "Tyropyrocereamancy - telling the future through cheese on toast (I am making that up)."

          Is that you Grommet?

    2. Kurt Meyer

      Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

      The news outlets here are/were reporting the recent death of "Miss Cleo" a famous TV "psychic". While the Essex coppers won't be able to avail themselves of her services, surely there must be a homegrown alternative?

      As a side note, I've always wondered why the "psychic" didn't call you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

        "While the Essex coppers won't be able to avail themselves of her services, [...]"

        They just need a seance or a ouija board.

      2. MonkeyCee

        Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

        "As a side note, I've always wondered why the "psychic" didn't call you."

        They already know what you're going to say

      3. Lotaresco Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

        "As a side note, I've always wondered why the "psychic" didn't call you."

        I work at a place that does "big science". It seems weird that in the nearby town that placards have gone up advertising a "Psychic Fayre(sic) and Tarot Reading Event" for some ludicrous amount of money. The posters are handsomely scribbled in black marker pen on fluorescent cardboard.

        I'm tempted to add "CANCELLED DUE TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES" in equally shaky penmanship.

        It's odd that the concentration of brains in the area doesn't seem to have done anything to eliminate gullibility.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Methods that are more credible than a polygraph

          "It's odd that the concentration of brains in the area doesn't seem to have done anything to eliminate gullibility."

          Those who find science an uncertain subject look for something that gives them simple answers. When surrounded by many science people they will look for something that gives them an unchallengeable feeling of certainty and reassurance.

  22. Fr. Ted Crilly

    We call it V-K for short....

    So... tell me about your mother leon, what's your earliest memory of her.

  23. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    Mushroom

    Can we not just ban the damn things?

    And force the Kyle monster to say "and I must emphasise that legally I can say that these results are for entertainment purposes only"?

  24. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Lie detectors? It''ll be ducking stools and trial by ordeal next. It reminds me of the witch burning skit from Monty Pythons Holy Grail.

    It's used on the convicted today, tomorrow?

    Wouldn't even be useful if you turned it on the politicians, they actually mostly believe their idiotic bullcrap.

    1. theModge

      trial by ordeal

      As the Sir Terry (RIP) said:

      "They only adopted trail by lawyer because they discovered it was worth than trail by ordeal"....

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: trail by lawyer

        'Release the Hounds!!!'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Wouldn't even be useful if you turned it on the politicians, they actually mostly believe their idiotic bullcrap."

      A successful salesman always believes what they are saying about a product.

      Most human minds are not very comfortable holding two conflicting views - so they get in their comfort zone by totally forgetting about the one they don't like. As Douglas Adams pointed out - a pink spaceship is an S.E.P.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        " a pink spaceship is an S.E.P."

        - Unless Eccentrica Gallumbits, "The Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon Six" is on board I expect.

        - When I was a student, a pile of dirty dishes in the sink was an S.E.P. - It doesn't necessarily have to be unbelievable or strange to have an S.E.P. field build up.

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Salesmen

        A successful salesman always believes what they are saying about a product."

        Probably, but it's usually this...Monty Python again...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9n11xtjZ3Y

    3. Adam 52 Silver badge

      "It's used on the convicted today"

      This needs correcting. These orders aren't for the convicted, they can - and are - applied to perfectly innocent people (well, pefectly innocent men actually).

      Your new Prime Minister isn't a big believer in the rule of Law.

  25. AndrewDu

    And there was me thinking you made up the name Ned Kelly.

    Reality trumps (sorry) satire yet again.

  26. PhilErrington

    Use a clever police dog

    If octopus can predict footie results lets get those underworked police dogs to urinate in certain ways if they think the suspect is lying.

    It should have the same psycological effect especially if the police make a (fake) video of the dog getting it right every time and show it to the (gullible) suspect first.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Use a clever police dog

      All drug sniffing dogs are taught to alert not only in the presence of drugs, but on command with a subtle signal, which the police will use if they want a reason to arrest you without justification.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell

        Re: Use a clever police dog

        Even that's no guarantee of sensible....

        "http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/06/23/utah_cops_smut_sniffing_dog/"

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Use a clever police dog

      If octopus can predict footie results lets get those underworked police dogs to urinate in certain ways if they think the suspect is lying.

      Now that's just taking the piss.

      Or giving it, maybe. Hmm.

  27. Nano nano

    Oh, so they are using polygraphs - The headline made me think they were using those golfball-finding explosives detectors ...

  28. mad_dr

    The good news is that if you pass the lie detector then you automatically qualify as 'pre-clear' and get a free trial membership in Scientology...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's a reason why cops like polygraphs and drug sniffing dogs

    They can create false 'alerts' quite easily, so if they want justification to arrest you they can have it without any actual proof.

  30. x 7

    you have to remember - Essex cops are the brothers of Essex girls. Not the brightest stars in the universe. All named stupid things like Glenn, Troy and Wombat

  31. Oengus

    Psychic

    I passed the "Intuitive Tarot" course... Can I apply to be a consultant?

  32. LaeMing
    Coat

    The police origionally hired the laughing psycic.

    But the plods misinterpreted the expression "strike a happy medium" and law suits are pending.

  33. harmjschoonhoven
    Paris Hilton

    Irony is,

    the best trick to beat a polygraph lie detector is to imagine the most vivid and sweaty sexual fantasies you can think of.

  34. GX5000

    Helper tool

    Used in Canada during investigation only to determine if subjects are trying to use subterfuge.

    The Technician uses the poly to determine if you;re trying to obfuscate the truth.

    Calling a Polygraph a Lie Detector just shows negative bias towards a system that does help out.

    If you don't believe me ask a Politician to test it out just for fun......they'll run since they know they won't be able to fool the technician.

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