“Have a seat.”
Normally, it’s a benign request.
But when Vincent Delgado says this, it rattles the nerves.
That’s because Delgado, a Disney nut whose office is filled with Magic Kingdom memorabilia (his wife is a nurse at Disneyland), is a polygraph expert.
And when Delgado says this, he’s not in his happiest-place-on-earth office.
Rather, the Anaheim PD investigator is one door down in the “Polygraph Suite,” marked by an intimidating red light above the door.
It’s nervous time.
The first thing you notice, before sitting down, is the pad on the seat of the chair.
“It’s a ‘movement pad,’” explains Delgado, his piercing stare seemingly probing your innermost thoughts and secrets.
“It detects twitches,” he says. “When someone is not being honest, their sphincter contracts.”
That Vinnie – he’s great at cocktail parties.
A box of tissue sits on a counter.
“People tend to get emotional in here,” Delgado says.
The veteran cop is one of only a few full-time officers in Orange County whose sole job is to give polygraph exams. Delgado often works with other local law enforcement agencies to sniff out deceptive perps.
Delgado, 51, a former professional baseball umpire (no lie), conducts about 225 polygraph exams per year – the bulk of which are for prospective employees of the Anaheim PD, Anaheim Fire & Rescue and other city departments.
About 10 percent of the tests Delgado conducts are for people accused of crimes.
In addition to the “movement pad,” Delgado measures breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and volume of sweat to detect whether a person isn’t telling the truth.
“I don’t like to call it lying,” he says of people trying to pull over a fast one while sitting in the hot seat.
“I call it deception.”
Delgado, bespectacled and sporting a buzz cut, has about 250 questions in his arsenal, but typically will ask a person 10 to 20 while they are hooked up to his machine.
“It’s all personal,” he says of the nature of his queries.
Delgado joined the Anaheim PD 24 years ago when a concussion (he was hit by a baseball) sidelined his umpiring career. His uncle was an APD cop in the 1950s, and the work always fascinated him.
For nine years, he’s been the APD’s go-to polygraph guy.
While undergoing the test, interviewees stare straight ahead at small U.S. and Anaheim flags while Delgado peppers them with questions from off to the side, one eye on his computer monitor and the other on the person.
An expert in visually detecting if someone is on drugs, Delgado also looks for ticks or, in the parlance of poker, “tells” that indicate a person is not being truthful – or, to use another poker term, bluffing.
Typically, within four to five minutes of the average 20-minute polygraph exam, Delgado knows if a person is being straight with him – or has something to hide.
Between 25 and 30 percent of interviewees fail the test.
The polygraph, says Delgado, has an accuracy rate of between 93 and 95 percent.
He recalls one job applicant who was about to take a seat in his Polygraph Suite who never made it there.
That’s because in her personal history statement that was part of her application for a part-time civilian position with the Anaheim PD, the woman admitted she was a suspect in a murder case.
Another shady character who was set to be interviewed by Delgado was taking a written examination to become a police dispatcher.
During a break, the man was caught shooting up heroin in the stall of the men’s restroom.
Delgado recalls taking a polygraph exam in 1990 to get hired by the APD.
“I pitted through my suit,” he said.
Delgado says he tries to keep people relaxed before the polygraph exam and likes to keep things lighthearted – even when some of the topics that come up are disturbing or uncomfortable.
And he says that despite how Hollywood portrays things, fooling a polygraph isn’t easy.
“Can you control your heartbeat rate?” he asks, poker faced. “Tell me someone who can. There are no such things as levels of honesty. You’re either lying or you’re not. Your sympathetic nervous system takes over when you’re lying.”
And why, when a person is lying, does one’s sympathetic nervous system react?
“Fear,” Delgado says.
“The fear of being caught.”
Delgado blames operator error for the times when psychopaths and other miscreants have passed the polygraph.
He has a simple explanation why he loves his work.
“I’m protecting the city and the residents of Anaheim.”