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AZ Child Safety Department under fire for ‘voodoo science’ voice analysis of secret recorded interviews

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The Arizona Department of Child Safety has come under fire after a policy memo revealed the Office of Child Welfare Investigations (OCWI) was allowed to record interviews without an individual’s consent, that would be used for “Computer Voice Stress Analysis” (CVSA).

According to a Phoenix New Times report, the memo — which was effective as of Dec. 23, 2016 — outlined the OCWI’s use of both overt and covert interviews for investigations in partnership with law enforcement agencies. Most people ages 18 and older can consent to an interview conducted by a CVSA examiner, classified as “overt,” but covert interviews can be conducted with neither the notice nor consent of the interviewee.

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Phoenix attorney Gregg Woodnick discovered the memo while researching for a legal education class in Child Services cases for fellow attorneys. When he came across the memo, he told the New Times, “It’s pretty earth-shattering.”

“OCWI — these are not police officers, just DCS case workers. That they would consider secretly audio recording and then using voodoo science [to analyze it] — there are a million problems with it,” he explained.

He told 12 News the procedure amounted to performing “polygraphs on people unwittingly.”

Jennifer Kupiszewski, an attorney and former assistant attorney general, described the policy as “shocking.” Kupiszewski explained, “You have an agency that is conducting covert interviews and they may have their children. How do you trust that agency to work with you, to take care of your children?”

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“DCS is run by a former police officer [Director Greg McKay] whose focus is on law enforcement,” she told the New Times. “The focus appears to be on investigating and not on figuring out what the family needs.”

Woodnick outlined to the New Times that a major issue with using the technology lies in that it “changes an entire police investigation,” since the OCWI works with law enforcement and would share the results of the voice analysis with police officers.

According to Woodnick, while the results of the analysis could not be used in court, they could be used in the course of an investigation to trick people into confessing to a crime, particularly one they did not commit. “It’s very, very troubling,” said Woodnick.

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The Department of Child Safety’s “federal mandate is to investigate, obviously, claims of child abuse or neglect,” Kupiszewski told the New Times. “But then they’re supposed to be working to remedy the situation by offering the parents services, and the child services, and keeping families together, and then if they have to remove a child, reuniting families.”

“I don’t know how to do that if they’re acting like they’re the police,” she said.

Cynthia Weiss, a spokesperson with DCS told 12 News the portion of the policy focused on covert interviews would be rescinded.

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“We have been looking at this policy and intend to rescind the portion of the policy relative to covert use of a CVSA exam. Although conducting ‘covert’ CVSA’s was initially discussed and entered into the CVSA policy, it was later decided that covert CVSA’s would not be conducted,” Weiss said in a statement.

Kupiszewski stated that when she speaks with families, “they say they feel bullied or threatened, and they definitely have expressed that they felt like DCS is not honest with them during the investigation process. This [policy] would indicate that maybe there is some merit to those claims.”

The memo remains online at this link.

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