To tell the truth

The decision by MCSS Ltd., a Reno employment agency, to add polygraph services reflects growing acceptance of lie-detector testing of job applicants.

Polygraph testing isn't just for criminals anymore.

Marie C.S. Soucie, president of the firm, says MCSS is the first employment agency in the region to provide in-house polygraph tests after it recruited Jim Colbert, who retired after 30 years with the Reno Police Department.

Companies recruiting for senior level positions use the MCSS Ltd. service to do background checks on potential hires. Attorneys request checks on their clients. And that often means a lie-detector test.

Why is a security check needed for executive positions?

"When the labor market is so tight, you have to be really careful in screening your candidates," says Soucie. "In such a tight market, there's no reason to be out of work."

However, that check is derigueur for some positions, such as police employees, gold miners, security guards, armored car drivers and those working with controlled substances such as pharmaceuticals.

MCSS joins established Reno-area polygraph firms such as Lantz High and Associates and Analytical Polygraph Co.

Hugh Lantz and his son Bret Lantz formed a partnership when Hugh retired from 23 years in law enforcement. Bret had been criminal investigator for the U.S. Army and holds an associate degree in criminal justice.

They contract with employment agencies as well as working directly with commercial companies and law enforcement agencies screening applicants. With government agencies investigating internal matters. And with attorneys wanting client polygraphs. They also screen firefighter applicants for the Sparks Fire Department.

As with police officers, says Lantz, firemen enter homes and are heroes to children, so background screening is required.

Richard Putnam founded Analytical Polygraph after retiring from 17 years with the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. He works primarily for attorneys who want to test clients.

"We're trying to get at the truth.," says Putnam. "Every test is a challenge. A lot of people are trying to lie to us." That's especially true for clients of attorneys who have committed burglaries or robberies, or who have been in prison.

"In employment crime as well, one may lie about whether they took the money," he says.

However, Putnam cautions that the Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 precludes employers from requiring that an employee take a polygraph test.

One exception is provided for pharmaceutical companies or other employers dealing with controlled substances.

Another exception: If an employer has suffered a loss and can articulate reasonable suspicion, something more substantial than that the suspect had access to the items.

The law requires that people get to see and explain their test results, says Putnam.

The challenge to the work, he says, is that the operator must do everything right. "It's as stressful to give a test as to take one."

Soucie says adding the polygraph service to her agency required someone to pass the polygraph examiners test administered by the Attorney Generals office.

"You really need to have a police background to pass it," she says.

Because the regulations are so tight, Colbert says there are few polygraph examiners in the state.

"I had considered going into business on my own," he says.

While lawyers may test potential clients before deciding whether to take them on as paying customers, the common belief is that lie detector evidence is not admissible in court.

Not exactly true, says Putnam. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court has held that it's up to the trial court whether a polygraph test's results are admitted as evidence after prior agreement from all parties.

Criminal polygraphs take three to four hours, including discussion and explanations, says Colbert. An employment polygraph takes about two hours.

Putnam says, "It's a lot of fun. I am still fascinated when I see the body do the things it does: the changes when someone's lying or telling the truth. Those respiratory and cardiovascular reactions translate onto a graph. It's all done digitally now."

But then he evaluates what's been recorded based on training and experience.

Hugh Lantz adds, "You have to have a good background to develop the right kinds of questions. They need to be short and concise, so there's no confusion in the mind of the respondent."


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