Sex offenders in parts of Yorkshire will be offered US-style lie detector tests to help police assess the risk they pose to the public on release.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright has announced plans to introduce the polygraph tests and provide two full-time officers to carry them out, despite questions over their accuracy.
He will spend £35,000 training the officers to carry out the tests, sending them to Texas to complete a 10-week, 400-hour basic training course, followed by another 80 hours of training. The tests will be offered to sex offenders who are on bail or being dealt with by probation and will be used only for risk assessments, not in court.
Officers will monitor heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to assess whether the subject is being truthful about their behaviour.
Results from the tests will be used to determine whether offenders have breached the terms of their release licence or represent a risk to public safety and should be recalled to prison.
Mr Wright, who recently criticised the force for its failure to focus on tackling child sex abuse, said that in trials by Hertfordshire Police, three-quarters of offenders had their risk level increased.
The tests could be used to assess the risk posed by suspects who are arrested for possession of child abuse images and released on bail while police carry out technical investigations.
Mr Wright said: “I will also fully support two police officers working full-time on the testing of sex offenders.
“I made plain in my police and crime plan that protecting the most vulnerable people in society was one of my key priorities and this important initiative is further illustration of how I am trying to achieve that aim.
“The programme will reduce investigation costs and help us protect more vulnerable people as we come to understand the risks associated with some of this criminal behaviour.
“This is an excellent opportunity for officers to be proactive in their management of suspects on police bail and contribute to protecting and safeguarding more children at risk of sexual abuse.”
Legislation was introduced this summer in the House of Commons allowing polygraph testing to be implemented in the UK.
Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in America, subject to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement agencies across the US.
Suspects arrested for indecent child image offences are currently released on bail while investigative technical work is carried out.
By assessing the risk factor of the offender, police bosses say the tests will help police prioritise the criminal investigations and decide if the individual is a further risk to the community.
Assistant Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the tests are “by no means a single solution” but are useful for managing high-risk offenders.
“Polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution but they are a technological development which will become another tool to use in the preparation of effective risk management plans for those convicted sexual offenders who present a high risk of reoffending,” she said.
“Acpo continues to work closely with the Ministry of Justice on the development of new approaches and technology which could benefit the management of sexual offenders and violent offenders.”