Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, and Speaker Cameron Sexton announced to accelerate the hiring process for additional forensic lab positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
In a recent release, officials said that taking the action of 25 new positions "ahead of the regular budget process will expedite the TBI’s efforts to expand testing capacity and reduce the turnaround time for sexual assault kits (SAKs)."
New forensic lab positions, which include scientists, technicians, and administrative support, will be added in each Grand Division in Tennessee: Jackson Lab - 8; Nashville Lab - 11, and Knoxville Lab - 6. "Recurring funding for these additional forensic lab positions will be included in the state’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget. In the interim, the TBI will utilize existing funds in the FY 2022-2023 budget," the release said.
Since 2019, the Lee administration and Tennessee General Assembly have made historic investments to support the TBI, totaling $42 million and funding 150 new positions. FY 2022-23 marked the single largest TBI investment in the Bureau’s history and included funding for 25 new forensic lab positions.
“For several years, Tennessee has made historic investments to support the TBI’s mission so that law enforcement can do its job and combat violent crime," said Gov. Bill Lee.
Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R - Oak Ridge) stated that while there is absolutely more to do, he is "pleased that we are able to take this additional step towards eliminating this backlog. We have to get these violent criminals off the streets and keep them off. We cannot do that if we cannot identify, arrest and incarcerate them. Rape is a particularly egregious and heinous crime. The current turnaround times for rape kits are clearly unacceptable. I am grateful to Governor Lee, Speaker Sexton, and the TBI for quickly identifying and approving these additional resources to help close the gap as soon as possible.”
“This is an important step in a series of steps as we continue working together to eliminate the backlog of rape kits while enhancing our support for the TBI, and law enforcement communities throughout the state,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “Innocence or guilt delayed due to a backlog of DNA testing only compounds the pain and suffering for everyone; I appreciate Gov. Lee, Lt. Gov. McNally, the General Assembly, and the TBI for their commitment to addressing this issue quickly.”
Pleased with the state's ongoing support, TBI Director David Rausch focused on the benefits of the update and the long-sought solution for what he called, challenges when he said, “We have been searching for solutions to these challenges for several years now, and we are thankful for Governor Lee and leaders of both houses in continuing to hear our concerns and work with us toward permanent fixes.
Rausch added that the commitment to fund additional positions will help the agency to get a "jump on the necessary training time to get new scientists prepared to perform their duties."
He emphasized that training and preparation are critical for success.
"We have collaborated with the Governor and leadership in both houses to prepare to do several things to immediately improve our turnaround times in our Forensic Biology units, including: providing overtime to our current scientists and technicians to work pending cases, expanding operations to include weekends, outsourcing as many eligible kits as we can to private laboratories, and contracting with retired TBI special agent/forensic scientists to assist in training new employees to free up current scientists who are pulled from casework to train new scientists, Rousch said and offered his confidence that the recent initiative will "bring us closer to more efficient turnaround times and put us in a position, within the next year, to be closer to our goal of 8 to 12 weeks for all evidence.
Led by Rousch, the TBI is looking forward to continuing the conversation with the Governor and the General Assembly to ensure "the Bureau – and its workforce – meet the needs and expectations of the state and its residents.”