Can You Force a Police Officer to Take a Polygraph Test ?

In DeVito v. Civil Service Commission, 404 Pa. 354, 172 A.2d 161 (1961), two policemen were interrogated concerning missing cash and checks. Both readily answered all questions and gave detailed written statements in connection with the incident. The officers were then asked to submit to a polygraph test, which they refused to do upon advice of counsel. Ultimately, the officers were ordered to submit to the test or be dismissed from the force. They again refused and were dismissed. Following an appeal to the Philadelphia Civil Service Commission, all charges were dismissed against the officers except those based upon their refusal to submit to the polygraph tests. On further appeal, the trial court held that the dismissals constituted a denial of the officers' right to due process and ordered reinstatement of the policemen with full pay. The city appealed to our supreme court, which first observed that local civil service regulations provided that the officers may only be dismissed for "just cause," a term that was not defined. The court in DeVito next observed that there was no provision in the city charter, city ordinances, city civil service regulations or police department regulations that, either expressly or by implication, required a city employee to submit to a polygraph test or authorized a dismissal for refusal to take such a test. For this reason, the court concluded that neither the police commissioner nor the civil service commission had the authority to require the test or to discharge the officers for refusing or failing to take the test. The court held that the commissioner and the civil service commission exceeded their powers to dismiss for "just cause."