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May 24, 2022

Part Eleven: Most important police tool since DNA

I almost felt sorry for him. But then,


works for horseshoes and hand grenades – not Jed Logan.
I almost felt sorry for him. But then, “almost” works for horseshoes and hand grenades – not Jed Logan.

The Free Lance’s assistant editor, popcorn-loving film critic and ace police reporter sat at the front of the Hollister Police Department’s conference room, all eyes of the seventh class of the Hollister Citizens Police Academy trained on him.

The microphone clipped to his shirt pocket was connected to a notebook computer, which was running CVSA software – Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, lauded by police nationwide as “the most important tool since DNA.”

Jed was, he and we thought, about to be caught in a lie, and he was loving it. We could tell by the “my-sister-can’t-tell-on-me-because-I-know-it-was-her-who-shaved-the-cat” grin on his face.

“Jed, say ‘Yes,'” HPD Det. George Ramirez said.

“Yes,” Jed said.

In about one second, a bunch of vertical lines appeared on the computer’s monitor, projected onto a screen on the wall. They looked like a really skinny mountain range. “Jed, say ‘No,'” Ramirez said.

“No,” Jed said.

Another second, another set of lines. They looked different than those to their left.

We were waiting for “Jed, is Bill Satterlee a good editor?” but there wasn’t time. Anyway, Ramirez wasn’t about to put Logan in that position – darn it.

But part of Ramirez’s point had been made. The CVSA, which the HPD acquired only about three weeks ago, is to the century-old polygraph as DNA is to fingerprints. It’s much faster, much less expensive, takes far less time to learn and, best of all, it’s more accurate.

“Don’t call it a ‘lie detector,'” Ramirez said. “Call it a ‘truth verification system.’ It can verify if you’re telling the truth.”

Ramirez recently took a six-day course in using the CVSA with the National Institute of Truth Verification in Sacramento. After those six days, he’s fully qualified to use the machine. In contrast, it takes two months to become a licensed polygraphist and perhaps years to become an expert at translating the graphs drawn by a “lie detector.”

The difference in the two is simple, yet complex. Developed in 1988 by Dr. Charles Humble, a licensed polygraphist, the CVSA picks up changes in the FM signals in sub-audible voice patterns. The complexity enters when learning that the human voice emits sound waves in both AM and FM.

When the brain feels stress, the FM signals decrease according to the degree of stress.

“Think of it as the different strings on a guitar,” Ramirez said.

“Different strings make different tones. That’s what the CVSA measures.”

Not only can it detect a fabrication, it can tell a “white lie” from a big one – and it gives the results almost instantly.

“If you’re telling the truth, this is definitely the (test) to take,” Ramirez said. “If you’re not telling the truth, this is definitely not the thing to take, because I’ll be able to tell if you’re telling the truth or not.”

Ramirez spoke those words with confidence. The CVSA is 98 percent accurate, compared to 80 percent for a polygraph – and a polygraph can give inconclusive results. The CVSA’s readings are spot-on.

When first introduced, law enforcement agencies were skeptical about the CVSA. By using it, the Baltimore police solved eight homicide cases in three weeks and police in Port St. Lucie, Florida, used it to clear Dwight Gooden and two other New York Mets of a 1991 rape charge while the Mets were in spring training.

Later, the Cocoa, Fla. police had a “cold” murder case in which a female suspect was cleared when an officer analyzed her voice on the CVSA from an audio cassette. That led to a conviction for second-degree murder.

That’s another of the CVSA’s wonders: it can do its job from a voice on a tape, or even over the phone. It can work with any language and it isn’t fazed by a voice affected by alcohol, drugs or normal nervousness – something a polygraph can’t claim.

A full CVSA exam takes about half an hour. On a polygraph, it’s 90 minutes to three hours. And – great news for police chiefs and city councils – its price tag is around $10,000, about a third the cost of a polygraph.

Still, like polygraph results, CVSA results aren’t admissible as evidence in court. The two degrees it falls short of perfection can put it in the “reasonable doubt” category.

“It’s another tool for us to use to try to make our job a little more accurate,” HPD Chief Bill Pierpoint said, adding that the department plans to give three more officers the training Ramirez received.

“The strongest point I give to the officers out there is that the CVSA is a tool,” Ramirez said. “It’s not going to solve a case for them.”

“Kiddie Cop” job really pays off

School Resource Officer Jesus Cortez was the arresting officer last week when two Rancho San Justo Middle School students were taken into custody for allegedly making threats against students and school administrators.

Cortez did not enjoy his work that day. But as the HPD’s School Resource Officer, it’s part of his job.

Only 24 himself but already a three-year HPD veteran, Cortez maintains an office on the San Benito High School campus and goes to other Hollister schools when requested or when a situation warrants. Every school in town, he said, has his pager number.

“Some of the other guys make fun of me because I’m at school,” he said. “They call me ‘Kiddie Cop.’ But this job really pays off when you get to make a rapport with kids.”

Perhaps because of his young age (“I’m still a kid myself,” he said), Cortez is well-suited to the role. With officer Paula Muro one of the department’s two D.A.R.E. instructors, Cortez recently presided over a D.A.R.E. graduation at R.O. Hardin School. It was hardly a secret that the fifth-graders revered him.

After awards for completing the D.A.R.E. program were presented, the students presented him with a potted tree they’ll plant in his honor.

Cortez, who’s built like a defensive tackle, couldn’t hold back the tears.

“The kids look up to you. They really do,” he said. “I’ve learned that.

“When you talk to kids, you’ve got to take them seriously; you’ve got to make sure you listen to them and be there to help them out. If you don’t, they’re going to see right through you.”

On campus, Cortez works with the “triad concept” – he’s a law enforcement officer, a counselor and a teacher.

Sometimes he wears the “police blues;” other times he’s more casually dressed. Either way, students know who he is, and many of them talk to him – and more.

“It got to the point that I was playing Hacky Sack with them,” Cortez said. “I was out there in my uniform and I could hardly lift my foot because I had all the gear on.”

But he’s a police officer first, and some students refuse to see past that.

“I hear ‘oink,’ ‘pig,’ ‘I smell bacon,'” he said. “I walked by one kid and he said ‘oink.’ I said to him, ‘Do you know me?’ He said ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Then why do you say that?’ He said, ‘I don’t like cops.'”

It’s the kids who do see the man behind the badge who make the difference.

“Most of the arrests I’ve made at the high school are for fights,” he said. “Some drugs – cocaine, a lot of marijuana, tobacco. Believe it or not, you get the respect of the kids for that. Five days after a suspension, they’re like ‘I messed up, I know.'”

Community and cops, working together

The public is often unaware of one of the most important aspects of police work. That’s one reason police departments are making a special effort to promote it.

C.O.P.P.S. – Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving – is under the direction at the HPD of Det. David Hackman, who began his law enforcement career seven years ago with the Los Angeles Police Department, which virtually invented the concept in the late 1980s.

“It’s really been going on since the beginning of policing,” said Hackman, who two weeks ago was promoted from officer status to detective. “It’s just been recently that there’s been a big push to get more in touch with the public.”

From his first day in the LAPD Academy, community-oriented policing was, Hackman said, “drilled into our heads. From my first day riding in a black-and-white with the LAPD, I was out working with the community.”

The reason should be obvious. If police and the community they serve work together, more crimes are solved. Better still, more are prevented.

“The police department can’t solve it by ourselves,” said an Arroyo Grande police officer in a video shown to the class. “The community can’t solve it by themselves. It’s all of us working together.”

The Arroyo Grande police have a youth crime program that Hackman said he wants the HPD to model its own program after.

“If anyone came to me and asked me what’s the No. 1 problem in Hollister, I’d say it’s youth crime,” he said.

The California Department of Justice defines C.O.P.P.S. as “a philosophy, management style and organizational strategy that promotes pro-active problem solving and police-community partners to address the cause of crime and fear as well as other community issues.”

The DOJ further states that “C.O.P.P.S. is not soft on crime,” to which state Attorney General Bill Lockyer added, in the video, “It’s tougher because it’s more effective.”

In the HPD, community-oriented policing manifests in 10 programs and practices: bicycle patrol, the Police Activities League, crime prevention/Neighborhood Watch, the Neighborhood Beat Officer Program, traffic officers, relationships with the code enforcement, parole and probation departments, the Police Explorers and Police Volunteers, parking enforcement and – the Citizens Police Academy.

“What I really enjoy about Hollister is we’re already involved in community-oriented policing,” Hackman said. “It didn’t just pop up one day. What’ s nice about Hollister is we’re small enough that people come up to me and talk about problems.”

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