By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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Parker says he "hides out" in Meeker, but today he's in Denver to conduct an examination and give a talk at a local college about his work. Sitting in a booth at a Denver pancake house, Parker smokes Benson & Hedges 100's and talks about different cases he's worked on. Nothing he can talk about on the record, but, Parker says, his work takes him all around the country.
"I don't want to come off like a secret agent or any such thing," he says. "I'm just rather good at what I do." How does he find work outside of Colorado? "People know me," he says cryptically. "You make friends."
Parker says he ran his own security firm for several years in Denver before taking up the truth-or-lie profession. He heard about the computerized polygraph being developed at the University of Utah and decided to check it out for himself. Until that point, he had never been a believer in the polygraph.
"I'm a 1953 Underwood typewriter kind of guy," he says with a little laugh, "but after going out to Utah and learning about this instrument, I felt that they'd done enough to remove the possibility of human error to give it a chance."
Parker explains that polygraphs work by monitoring "automatic" functions in the human body, such as respiration and heart rate, over which an individual has little or no control.
"When you came out of Mommy," Parker explains, "Mr. Automatic did everything. Then you started to notice things--like when you screamed, somebody came to you. You put that into your library, along with the fact that you got yelled at when you kept dirtying yourself. You were sensing stress and realized that it was better to say 'Mommy, potty' as opposed to getting yelled at. That's self-protection."
Those same instincts, Parker says, play into polygraph results.
"If I put a dilemma to you, there will be more oxygen in your bloodstream. That's an automatic function you have no control over. You analyze that and say, hi, I have a change from the norm. The computer monitors oxygen intake closer than the human eye can see just by looking at the polygraph chart. As a result, you don't have humans sitting around saying one squiggle looks different than another squiggle when a human life is at stake. The problem that remains for the human examiner is the formulation of the questions."
Before computerized polygraphs came out, Parker says, the test simply recorded what the body was doing. "This computer analyzes what the body is doing. But the examiner still plays a big part in the process. The examiner has to formulate the questions properly or the test isn't going to be valid. I've been in situations where a life is in my hands and, hi, I've got to figure out if this certain individual committed the crime. It's like flying an airplane upside down--it can't be taken lightly."
Parker explains that the polygraph was never designed to cover multiple issues. As a result, questions must be formulated around a specific allegation. If the examiner wants to find out if an individual stole a blue diamond, three questions will be asked to home in on that specific act: Did you steal the blue diamond? Did you steal the blue diamond from the bathroom? Did you steal the blue diamond from the jewelry box in the bathroom?
The importance of how questions are framed is what makes the guys down at Alverson & Associates concerned about Parker's education and his refusal to join either the APA or CAPE.
Parker remembers that he took exactly 320 academic hours at the polygraph school in 1985 and graduated with a GPA of 83.6 percent. But he says his real education has come from field experience in the years since.
"I'm a guy who doesn't believe in organizations," he says of his lack of membership in the trade associations. "My credibility comes from the instrument that I use and my experience. I'd be more than willing to have any other polygrapher examine my work--that's why I make printouts and audio recordings of every examination.
"But I was a member of the Elks and Lions, if that means anything."
Differences of opinion aren't anything unusual in the world of polygraph examiners.
The scientists who trained Gene Parker at the University of Utah, including David Raskin, were some of the field's modern pioneers.
In 1970, after being approached with the challenge by the U.S. Army, Raskin began to develop a computerized polygraph. Although Raskin is now retired, save for the occasional appearance in court as an expert witness, he talks about his research in Utah as if it happened yesterday. "We improved the test through better circuitry," he says from his house in Homer, Alaska. "Our system uses more sophisticated technology on the same biological responses." The project took more than twenty years and attracted the attention of the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Defense, both of which stepped in with funding.
"The Secret Service was really pleased with the system," Raskin recalls. "Their field study said that they got almost twice as many confessions using our software. That made us realize that there was a market for this which needed to be stimulated, because at that time, the polygraph's status was marginal as far as validity. So part of our motivation was to see if it could be done, but we also wanted to make some money."