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Most of the time, the truth isn’t so evident. It’s a murky mess that lies somewhere in differing narratives of a story. When determining the truth in criminal cases, polygraph examiners like Biff and Mark are often called in. Both former detectives and trained polygraphists, they work out of an unassuming office space sandwiched between a Vietnamese restaurant and a Pizza Hut. It’s strange to think that it’s a place where life-changing evidence is gathered, a place that helps decide who gets locked up and who goes free. And it’s odd to think that the two men who have heard Maine’s most horrific stories could still be cheerful people. But that’s the truth.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Mark- As a person and a polygraph examiner, the truth is important. Fairness and proper procedure. I’m of the mindset that you do it right or you don’t do it at all. With regards to polygraph, it has pretty significant impact on people’s lives.
Biff- My family is certainly important. And I do sometimes employ my polygraph training into my marriage and my relationship with my son. And what that means is just being a good listener and trying to understand what people are actually saying. So that has helped. To me, my home life is very important. The other thing that Mark and I would agree on is that there is nothing better in our profession is being able to help a child victim and getting the offender locked up and behind bars because that’s our job. I have no problem getting handcuffs on someone and seeing then in jail. A therapist can do their work later, but I understand my role. When I know someone is locked up after brutally sexually assaulting a young child, I feel good about that. I feel that I’ve done what we are here to do, to protect people in our society. You find a lot of solace in that. To me, that’s what’s always kept my head on straight, knowing we’ve helped people. There are times that Mark and I have struggled to keep our heads on straight, like a lot of detectives. But, Mark and I have come to this saying, that if we weren’t doing this, who would? When I went to polygraph school, I wasn’t a believer in it. But I got more confident in the instruments, the techniques and myself. Both Mark and I have a very good reputation in the polygraph world and I think that’s key. So it’s nice to be able to come here and get a confession or to help a child. That’s real important stuff: family and taking care of victims out there.
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING A POLYGRAPH TEST?
Biff- Our training is very intense, up to ten weeks away from home, with doctors of psychology and anatomy and physiology, plus interview skills and techniques. So the interview will basically start as soon as we answer the door: the way we present ourselves, our demeanor. We watch them and ourselves. You want them to be comfortable enough with you to believe you are objective. You have to really present, so that you are being objective. Because the person needs that– especially an innocent person. The polygraph room is very sterile, so there’s no distractions. We like it to be quiet. You want them to be focused on everything you are telling them, and how important it is for them to be 100% truthful throughout the entire interview. Because that’s what’s going to save them in the end, if they are innocent.
Mark- First, there is an overview of the entire process. It’s part rapport building. Anyone that is walking into a polygraph interview is going to have a level of anxiety or nervousness. We cover their legal rights- not so much Miranda Rights, but there are some legal issues that need to be covered. Then we test whether or not they are suitable to do a polygraph. We ask questions about medical health, medical history, and mental health. Things like acute illness, intoxication, going through withdrawals, certain head injuries, skipping a medication that day all might make people less suitable for polygraph. We determine the functional age of the person. We have a 12-year-old cut off, but there are 24-year-olds with the functioning age of a 12-year-old. People often ask us if a psychopath can pass a polygraph test. And absolutely, they can pass a polygraph test just like anyone else can, if I get the question wrong. There’s so much more evidence that suggests that even persons with anti-social disorders can still take a polygraph as long as they have no memory impairment and have some ability to understand consequence. Polygraph is not a true lie-detector, it’s a detector of salience.
Biff- There are no surprise or trick questions on the exam. It’s reviewed. Generally it takes three and a half to four hours to do what we call a Specific Issue Test. When we go through all this and we’ve talked about suitability and why they are here, then as interviewers, you start to ask them to tell you everything about the case in detail. “Give me everything you know about the case.” “What are you being accused of?” And we will start to listen, because most people lie by way of omission. Most people when they tell a story, they won’t admit to the actual story itself. Then we get to the incident. Statistically, with a sexual assault victim, 60-70% of what they will tell you will be about the assault. 15% might be leading up to it.
WHAT HAS BEING IN THIS LINE OF WORK TAUGHT YOU ABOUT THE TRUTH?
Mark- Everybody lies.
Biff- Oh yeah. Everybody lies.
Mark- Everyday. Even us. How would you stay married if your wife asks you if her dress makes her look fat, and you go, “Honey, it’s not the dress, you are fat.”
WHAT HAS THIS WORK TAUGHT YOU ABOUT TRUST?
Mark- Trust, but verify. I’ll use Ronald Reagan’s quote.
Biff- That’s perfect. Trust, but verify. It takes time to trust people because as we get older in life, I’m 55, if you just think about all the relationships I’ve built where the trust was broken in some way. When that happens, it’s very difficult to really trust again. Trust, obviously takes a lot of time to build. I think there is always some doubt, certainly with relationships. Trust all depends on your life’s experiences. Some people haven’t been burned or hurt in life or are more apt to trust. And when that happens to you, you walk away with that burn mark.
Mark- For me, even before polygraph, I knew that we all engage in little white lies. You know, fibs to get by. The problem with polygraph is that it has exposed me to absolute evil. I’ve talked to people who have done horrific things to spouses and family members. Biff and I have been involved in a number of murder cases, both as law enforcement officers and defense. We’ve been involved in absolutely horrific child abuse or child sex cases, both of which the polygraph gets you real close and real intimate with folks who did these things. I used to say that I believe in God because I had met the devil many times.
ARE YOU ABLE TO KEEP FAITH IN HUMANITY?
Biff- That is a very difficult question for me. I do have faith in humanity in general, but I also see all the evils that man has committed. Some atrocities. Knowing that’s what we do for work, I’m also able to separate that’s not the way my life is, that’s not the way my friends are, that’s not how the people I associate with are. But there are people how there that are evil. There are some people that we are never going to cure. I keep faith because I have become familiar with human nature, I’ve come to understand it professionally, accept it. As a kid growing up in a Catholic school, I learned to forgive everybody and move on. I can sit in a room with ten people, and I know that someone in there has a deep, deep secret– some crime they’ve committed against another human being. But we’re able, for the most part, to separate any skepticism we might have, because for the most part people out there are good. I know where my role is, in this profession. I’m not working at a resort where everyone is drinking and smiling, I’m working with this segment of society.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING OR HAVE LEARNED.
Biff- Try to be a good person. Because if you commit a crime, then good luck telling the truth. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, because lies, no matter how small sometimes, have a way of rearing their ugly head and biting you later on. I’d rather tell the truth, because the consequences of getting caught lying are so much worse.
Mark- The truth is of great value; but not always easy to obtain.