CDCR employees are among students receiving training in the
use of a polygraph at the Richard A. McGee Training Center.
Dana Simas / Public Information Officer
Since June 25, more than 30 students from law enforcement agencies nationwide, and even Guam, have come to CDCR’s Richard A. McGee Training Center in Galt for an intensive eight-week polygraph course taught by the prestigious Backster School of Lie Detection.
The students, including four CDCR employees, have been busy cramming what a former student describes as “two years worth of psychology courses into 40 hours.”
The grueling course involves lessons in the philosophy of lie detection, how to interpret a person’s physiological responses to questions, interview techniques, question formulation, how to properly attach a person to the polygraph instrument, how to score charts, and how to use the polygraph instrument software.
CDCR Senior Special Agent John Prelip of the Special Service Unit (SSU) described the course as “by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”
Prelip was sent by CDCR to attend the Backster School of Lie Detection in San Diego in 2009. The Office of Correctional Safety’s SSU is the only unit in CDCR that administers polygraph exams.
The lie detection tests are administered during criminal investigations, threat assessments, and debriefing verifications. CDCR also offers assistance to outside law enforcement agencies that do not have a polygraph examiner.
Earlier this year, Prelip was asked to find a cost-efficient way to train SSU agents in the art of lie detection. He was unhappy with the location options he found, so he took a bold step to reduce cost.
Prelip approached the director of the Backster School about hosting the program in Galt. He convinced the director, and the agreement was finalized by April.
The move is beneficial because most of the students are staying on-grounds during the eight-week course, avoiding costly per diem meals and lodging. It’s a savings not only for CDCR but also for the multiple law enforcement agencies that have sent representatives to the program.
“This is the first time anything like this has been done,” Prelip said of CDCR hosting non-CDCR employees at the training center. “We’ve created collaboration between law enforcement agencies across the United States.”
The course could cost an agency more than $15,000 per student, including tuition, materials and per diem for lodging and meal. Offering the course on CDCR property has saved the department thousands of dollars.
CDCR Special Agent John Jefferson, a student in the Galt polygraph class, is glad the courses are being held at the academy.
“Taking the classes at the academy is great because it’s convenient to have the classes at the same location where we are staying, and the classrooms are really accommodating,” Jefferson said.
When the opportunity to take the polygraph courses came up Jefferson volunteered and was selected by his supervisor.
“It’s very academically challenging,” said Jefferson. “We are learning from the best in the field.”
Graduation is set for Aug. 17. After graduation, the academy will host a post-conviction sex offender polygraph examiner training course.
Under Chelsea’s Law, aspects of the sex offender containment model went into effect as of July. One aspect was that sex offenders have to be given polygraphs regularly, increasing demand for polygraph operators.
To maintain certification, polygraph operators have to conduct at least 30 tests over the year following their graduation. As some law enforcement agencies administer two to three tests a day, most students don’t find reaching the required number to be difficult.