When Shane Sullivan was hired as the police chief of Coopertown, Tennessee; he decided to take a zero-tolerance approach to racism on the force. As part of his efforts to keep racist knuckle-draggers out of uniform in the Nashville suburb, new applicants now have to take a polygraph.
Sullivan said he doubts racists will even apply for the force if they know about the tests.The test asks whether an applicant has ever committed a hate crime or a race-based crime. He's also implementing background checks as well to screen out racists.
"I think the polygraph will definitely keep these people from applying," the 39-year-old chief said.
And he believes the policy is working, because he says it's already discouraged some applicants. "I've told a couple of ones about the polygraph who have not called me back."
Sullivan made this move in part because the Coopertown police department imploded last summer in part due to racism. According to a piece on Sullivan that ran in The Tennessean in January, back in August a reserve officer was caught on dashcammaking racial slurs about a black motorist he'd pulled over. Incredibly, the then-chief only gave him a one-day suspension--but when the video went public, the outcry forced the chief to fire him. The chief resigned shortly afterward because the big bad media wouldn't leave him alone. Since the only full-time cop had been fired due to a road-rage incident, this left Coopertown without a police department. The Robertson County sheriff handled police duties for most of the fall until Sullivan was hired in November.
At least one polygraph expert thinks that polygraphs have limits.
Bob Peters, a spokesman for the American Polygraph Association, said asking about factual matters is a better approach than using subjective questions about prejudice or racism. He says a polygraph can't accurately predict whether someone is racist.Nonetheless, Peters thinks Sullivan is taking the right tack, and many other citizens agree as well.
"There might be people whom I might think have racist attitudes but they might not think so," said Peters, whose association has established best practices for use of the polygraph.
Sullivan is hoping to hire enough cops to provide 24-7 service. It may take a little longer with this polygraph process, but Sullivan is determined to give the town a professional police department. And for that, he deserves to be commended.