When a person is convicted of a sex offence, they are placed on the sex offenders’ register.
Everyone on the list has to be monitored. Offenders often go on the register for 10 years or more and sometimes for life, which means that the numbers on the register are continually increasing and, in South Yorkshire, this means we are constantly adding to the 1,500 registered sex offenders who must be monitored by the police and Probation Service.
Clearly, we have to explore new ways of managing this expanding workload and this is why the force has been breaking new ground by using polygraph assessments (lie detector tests) for nearly 12 months to tackle sex offenders. People often associate ‘lie detectors’ with programmes such as Jeremy Kyle, and some feel that we shouldn’t be using this type of equipment, particularly when the results cannot be used in court, so I thought it would be useful to explain how innovative use of this equipment is helping to make South Yorkshire a safer place.
Convicted sex offenders are given the opportunity to take a lie detector test as part of their monitoring process.
Participation in police interviews is completely voluntary and they can refuse if they so wish.
Nevertheless, a refusal tells the police officer that this is a person who is liable to be hiding something and it becomes a signal that the police need to delve deeper into their activities to see if they have returned to any of their old habits.
Those who do agree to be interviewed are given a detailed explanation of how the equipment works.
This is the point where any of them who were expecting a Jeremy Kyle experience realise that it is actually a very sophisticated process which is based upon scientific validation.
This has resulted in numerous instances of the sex offender volunteering to tell the police officers about what they have been up to because they feel that they cannot beat the test.
Once the test is under way, the officer who is doing the interview can see detailed information on a computer screen, which strongly indicates if the person is lying.
When this happens, the answer to the question is probed much deeper and often the person is unable to sustain the lie and ends up telling the truth and making admissions about what they have been doing.
So how does this make the public safer? The answer is simple, we concentrate our efforts on offenders who appear to be trying to hide something and the interview process regularly reveals information that may have taken us weeks to find out.
In one recent case, a man who gave all the signs of being a reformed character was actually shown to be committing serious offences towards children and we took immediate action.
The law has been changed to give the Probation Service the power to force sex offenders to take this type of test. The police cannot do the same, but if we could, it would be a powerful weapon in our armoury in the fight against sex offenders.
In the meantime, we are using the lie detector test every day and it is fast becoming an invaluable tool in managing an ever-increasing problem.
* David Crompton, Chief constable of South Yorkshire,