Police Polygraph or CVSA Exam?
Most Law Enforcement Agencies will conduct a "Truth Verification Exam." The two most common forms of this test are the Polygraph and the Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA). While both methods are controversial, law enforcement needs some way to insure the honesty and integrity of its members.
A polygraph is a diagnostic instrument that records physiological changes in a person caused by stress, like answering questions that make or break your dream of becoming a police officer. It relies upon measuring the body's involuntary responses which occur when the subject is consciously being deceptive or untruthful.
An alternative method for testing truthfulness is the Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA). While it is less common than the polygraph, it can be found throughout the U.S. In California, the CVSA is used by the California Highway Patrol and other agencies.
A very good way to deal with the anxiety of taking the polygraph or CVSA is to know what to expect. This article covers the basics. Much more is presented in a full-length, on-line training course described below.
Example Questions for Police Polygraph or CVSA
You will be asked about the following topics during a typical truthfulness examination for entry level law enforcement positions.
- Shoplifting or theft of money or merchandise from employer.
- Illegal drug trafficking or dealing.
- Illegal drug or medication use, including steroids.
- Use of alcohol.
- Falsification or minimization in your requested information.
- Participation in any type of organized crime.
- Arrests for anything other than minor traffic violations.
- Commission of a crime which has not been detected.
- Concealment of anything in your background that would affect your chances for this position.
- Involvement in a physical fight with another person, including domestic violence.
- Use of excessive physical force against another person.
- Payment or receipt of any bribes.
Keep in mind, admitting to any of the above questions may disqualify you from consideration for the job. Exceptions would be minor offenses like shoplifted while a juvenile. Drug use also has certain time limits, such as, "if you haven't smoked marijuana in the last three years." Each police agency has their own policies, so check their minimum qualifications.
How to Prepare for the Police Polygraph or CVSA
Preparation for the polygraph/CVSA begins when you fill out your application. This critical point is covered in detail under Hiring Process on this site.
It is my suggestion that you deal with the above questions in a truthful and forthright manner on your application. Even though there are flaws in the polygraph process, giving honest answers to the questions is the best way to pass. This is not to say that in certain cases, despite giving truthful answers you are guaranteed to pass. You're not. It's not a perfect system. But if you are prepared for the exam by knowing what to expect and you are truthful, you can avoid triggering a "false failure."
Knowing what to expect and having confidence in your answers will help you eliminate the physiological changes which occur when being nervous. These physiological changes will lead to false positive readings and failure.
How do you prepare for the polygraph examination? Simply put, you need to relax and place your mind and body at ease. You need to be as "normal" as possible when taking the examination. Sgt. Godoy’s Mastering the Polygraph will teach you how to achieve these results.
Most Important During the Polygraph or CVSA
- Prepare for the test and thoroughly familiarize yourself with the three types of polygraph questions (irrelevant, relevant, control/comparison) and be able to identify them. During the "pre-test" interview all questions will be read to you. Use this time to categorize each question in your mind.
- Familiarize yourself with the nonverbal body language that examiners associate with truth and deception. In addition to the charts, the examiner often factors in these nonverbal cues in his or her determination of truth or deception.
- Familiarize yourself with common interrogation tactics and use extreme caution, especially during any "post-test interview."
- Do not change your answers! Even the slightest attempt to clarify your response to a relevant question may be taken as an admission.
Reduce Your Risk of Failing the Polygraph or CVSA
Make A Good First Impression
Your examiner's subjective opinion of you may influence the outcome of your polygraph/CVSA interrogation. Look your best. Make sure you're clean shaven and have a conservative haircut. Dress professionally, polish your shoes. If you're a woman, dress conservatively.
Be friendly. Smile, but don't overdo it. Keep good eye contact with your examiner, but don't stare. Your examiner may interpret avoidance of eye contact as a sign of deception. Answer questions directly with confidence and without hesitation - but be natural.
Don't Be Late
If you're late you'll instantly make a bad impression. Your examiner may think being late is a subconscious attempt to avoid the exam - increasing his suspicion of you even before he asks his first question.
You'll Be Judged on Your Appearance and Demeanor
The moment you arrive for your polygraph or CVSA, your examiner will be observing you. He will size you up based not only on what you say, but also on your appearance and demeanor. The interrogation room itself may be equipped with a two-way mirror or a concealed video camera. It may not be easy but try to avoid looking nervous. You might consider bringing something to read or otherwise keep yourself productively occupied while waiting.
The Pre-Test Interview
Be polite and cordial. Answer your examiner's questions directly, but remember to make no admissions during this time that are not already in your application.
Keep your Answers Short
Answer any yes/no question with a simple "yes" or "no." Avoid replies such as, "yes, basically" or "not really." Such evasive answers will make you appear deceptive to your examiner. Don't be chatty or over friendly with your examiner. If you are overly talkative your examiner may interpret this as a sign of deception.
Great Resource for Preparing for the Polygraph or CVSA
Minimize your chance of “falsely failing” your polygraph or CVSA by studying Sgt. Godoy's online prep courses:
These popular course are already included with Sgt. Godoy's widely acclaimed PoliceExam911 Prep Course.
Included in these courses is an actual practice session that simulates the interogation that you will have to endure. Not only will you be able to pass the polygraph or CVSA, but you will be one step closer to your dream of becoming a police officer.