Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and Speaker Cameron Sexton on Thursday announced a decisive step to accelerate the hiring process for 25 additional forensic lab positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Taking this action 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.
New forensic lab positions, including scientists, technicians and administrative support, will be added in each Grand Division in Tennessee:
Jackson Lab - 8
Nashville Lab - 11
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.
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 Governor Lee. "As our nation faces rising crime, we are taking this additional step to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, increase the TBI’s capacity and reduce testing turnaround times as quickly as possible. I’m grateful for the partnership of Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the General Assembly in this important action, and our efforts to strengthen public safety will continue.”
“While there is absolutely more to do, I am pleased that we are able to take this additional step towards eliminating this backlog," said Lt. Governor McNally. "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 Sexton. “Innocence or guilt delayed due to a backlog of DNA testing only compounds the pain and suffering for everyone; I appreciate Governor Lee, Lt. Governor McNally, the General Assembly, and the TBI for their commitment to addressing this issue quickly.”
“I am glad we are able to quickly provide additional resources to address the TBI backlog of sexual assault kits," said Senator Bo Watson. "It is critical our criminal justice system can swiftly remove rapists from the streets to protect victims and ensure these despicable criminals cannot further terrorize the community. The move today is a step in the right direction. I appreciate the work of Governor Lee, Lt. Governor McNally and the TBI to eliminate this backlog and streamline the process. The Finance Committee has always been committed to working with the TBI to ensure they have the resources necessary to meet their goals.”
“To keep Tennesseans safe, we must continue holding violent criminals accountable and ensuring swift justice for victims," said State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. "These new forensic lab positions will help expedite that process by addressing the alarming backlog of sexual assault kits in our state. I applaud Gov. Lee, Lt. Gov. McNally, and Speaker Sexton for providing additional resources to local and state agencies, and guaranteeing our communities are better protected.”
“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,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “The commitment to fund additional positions will help us get a jump on the necessary training time to get new scientists prepared to perform their duties. This is a critical step in the process. In addition to this, 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, to include: 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 case work to train new scientists. We’re confident these steps 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. We also look 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.”