Voice stress analysis evaluation begins

Released: Sep 23, 1997

ROME, N.Y. (AFNS) -- "To Tell the Truth" may soon mean more than an old-time television game show.

Backed by funding from the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice, through the Nation al Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center/Northeast, Rome Laboratory engineers will team with police departments from the city of Rome and village of Canastota to conduct a year-long evaluation of commercial "voice stress analysis" technology.

"Our goal is to determine if the systems work as truth verifiers," said Sharon M. Walter, the program manager in Rome Laboratory's Directorate of Intelligence and Reconnaissance. "The technology has been commercially available for more than 10 years, but no one has really done a good evaluation."

Companies marketing "voice stress analysis" systems -- computerized technology to detect stress in a person's voice -- claim that their equipment can detect when a person is under stress, possibly indicating the person is lying. The systems are advertised as being cheaper, easier to use, and less constrained in their operation than polygraph machines which must be physically attached to the speaker's body.

Police departments receive frequent offers of advanced technologies by commercial enterprises that promise to reduce officer workload, improve law enforcement effectiveness, and save lives. With increasingly limited budgets, they must be wary of the real value of advertised technologies.

Rome Police Chief Merino Ciccone and Canastota Officer Michael Adsit both brought advertisements of voice stress analysis systems to the attention of Rome Laboratory's speech processing experts at about the same time. A thorough literature search indicated that voice stress analysis technology has never been put through a rigorous, scientific evaluation. Officers from both departments assisted Rome Laboratory scientists in preparing the technical proposal to the NIJ to perform a formal evaluation of the technology.

"I became very intrigued about this technology when I read about it in a professional journal," said Ciccone, adding that it's cost-prohibitive for small police departments like Rome to purchase systems when "there is not a lot of technical data available that is 100 percent verifiable."

Ciccone, who is a member of NIJ's Northeast Regional and National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Advisory Councils, approached officials of the Northeast Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, co-located with Rome Laboratory at the Griffiss Business and Technology Park.

"It looks like we will be getting this professional evaluation and that may well open up a new avenue of approach to successfully conclude (solve) crime investigations," Ciccone said. "We are in the process of building a database of tape recordings of people we are interviewing. During the course of the study, we will know the outcomes of some of these cases and will be able to analyze the tapes knowing who was determined to be innocent and who was guilty."

"The two major manufacturers of voice stress analysis systems have been identified and the next step will be to acquire the systems and attend training classes on their use," said Walter, noting that the systems cost between $8,000 and $10,000 each, with three to six days of training required for operation.

The program will also include an electronic evaluation of how the systems work, specifically what information goes in and what information comes out.

Rome and Canastota Police Departments will continue to play an active role in the technology evaluation. Law enforcement agencies from as far away as Fort Worth, Texas, have already shown interest in the results of the investigation.