Why it is important to carefully examine lateral transfers

I am usually a nice quiet, mostly retired cop-detective-chief-examiner, who spends most of his time in the swimming pool or on the rocking chair reading Jack Reacher Novels. However, I was taken aback by this report in the Fort Worth Star–Telegraph Newspaper. The article hyper-link is set out below and I suggest we all pay attention.


In a substantially as follows nut shell; the chief of the FWPD sought to hire several officers laterally from other departments. They have some departmental procedures for all of that and on the surface they sound fine. But according to reports, the officers transferring in, did not have the level of peace officer certification required to satisfy the procedure. But the Chief went forward anyhow.

Next, they took the polygraph and scored “Inconclusively.” The chief then elected to waive the polygraph requirement for retesting, for those lateral applicants on the grounds that his (the chief’s) stated experience reflects that an “Inconclusive” is as good as a pass. The Ft.Worth Police Officers Association took umbrage with that and filled for an injunction on the basis of the lack of consistent fairness, or some such, but you get the core concept. The chief retorted with the idea of resolving the issue by dropping the requirement for polygraphing all officers who were entering laterally.

Right about then is when my rocking chair quit rocking. I have a little experience myself and (1.) An Inconclusive is just that for a reason and is not as good as either a pass or a failure (technically the other choices are Deceptive or Non-Deceptive) ; and, (2.) After having conducted a significant number of pre-employment polygraph examinations for several agencies over the years, I have some thoughts about the subject as it relates to the matter at hand.

It is my experienced impression that most of the first time applicants (the virgins so to speak), that have gotten that far in the process so as to be polygraphed, are essentially sincere innocents. However, the lateral applicants present an entirely different profile. These experienced hands have been there and done that and not always the right way. Sometimes that is why they are “laterals” because the last agency was glad the to see the back of them. In fairness to the “laterals,” sometimes it the previous agency that may be the one that should be under investigation. But in any case, all of that should have been be sorted out by the new agency long before the “lateral” ever it gets to the polygraph chair. Upon personal reflection, the more baggage the “lateral” carries, the surlier and more intimidating they tend to get. These are also the most likely to try some form of countermeasure. Countermeasures by the person being tested often leads to “Inconclusive” Results simply because the charts are unscorable. It is also surprising to me that so many of the “laterals” have never faced a polygraph, physical or psychological examination in their previous agencies. The bottom line, in my opinion is that that last person to exclude from a polygraph is a lateral transfer, especially one who never faced examination before.

Now, if the unstated intent by the Chief was to be more inclusive in the selection pool, I would suggest from my “chiefing” experiences, that certain restrictions be amended. Specifically, I am thinking that we need to officially reflect on that cloud of legal green smoke that is descending upon us. The matter of acceptable marijuana use, and how many times it was used, when and under what circumstances, needs to be addressed and quantified. Then maybe consider, or weigh, the significance of some of the minor offenses like the inability to raise the money to pay a fine or being ugly while driving. The brain cell eating use of pornography by many of the younger applicants is another murky area of concern. This mind altering process seems to impact the examination results and the applicants’ thinking processes about acceptable social relations. In other cases, some pornography consumers seem to be carrying a burden of guilt about this “sinful” behavior.

I hasten to point out that I have not done an academic study to support these experiences. OK, all of that thinking just wore me out. Back to my rocking chair, I will leave the resolutions up to you younger folks.

Jim Kelly

Leave a reply