For the past few years, every time police in the Town of Tonawanda needed to use the department's polygraph machine -- that's a lie detector, to the rest of us -- they had to pick up the phone and call Amherst or the state police for help.
That's because the last officer on the Tonawanda force trained to use the polygraph retired in the mid-1990s, leaving the town without an on-staff truth expert.
Now, Jeffrey T. Campanella plans to change all that.
"It's not even called 'polygraph' anymore. It's called the psycho-physiology of the detection of deception," said the 32-year-old detective, currently one of nine law enforcement experts from around Erie County taking an intensive truth detection class at Buffalo's Central Police Services.
The 10-week course, which has students busy from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day -- plus "three or four hours of homework every night," said Campanella -- will culminate in the students' certification in polygraph operation, plus other higher-tech methods of truth detection.
The Town of Tonawanda is funding the $3,000 cost of the course, an amount Police Chief Samuel M. Palmiere said is a valuable investment for the force.
"We have the machine, and we do use it quite often, but at this point we have to call another agency to do it, like the state police or Amherst," Palmiere said.
Once the department is recertified, Palmiere said he will look for grant money to replace the current 30-year-old polygraph with the latest in digital truth detectors.
The evidence provided by a polygraph is not admissible in court, but it's still a useful tool for police to have, Palmiere said.
"What we use it for is to eliminate people that are possible suspects," he said. "If people are willing to come in and take a polygraph, they can eliminate themselves from suspicion."
Campanella said the course goes far beyond mere operation of the machine, into elements of physiology, psychology and human behavior.
"It's very complex," he said. "Polygraph was the old-style, the old days. Now everything is digital, it's computerized, and the chances of error in the answers you get is that much less."