(WREG/WKRN) — On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee’s office announced plans to speed up the hiring process for 25 new forensic positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in order to increase testing capacity at three labs, as well as decrease the turnaround time for sexual assault kits.
According to a statement released on Thursday, Sept. 29 by the governor’s office says, more lab positions — including scientists, technicians, and administrative support — will be added at each of the state’s grand divisions:
- Eight new positions at the Jackson Lab
- Eleven new positions at the Nashville Lab
- Six new positions at the Knoxville Lab
The move comes as the TBI faces scrutiny over the time it takes to test sexual assault kits.
Earlier this month, Cleotha Abston-Henderson, accused of kidnapping and murdering Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher, was indicted in a 2021 rape case.
A report was taken in September 2021, but it took nearly a year for the TBI to match Abston-Henderson’s DNA with the submitted sexual assault kit. The TBI says it didn’t receive a hit until Fletcher’s body was found earlier this month.
The victim of that rape says she tried to warn Memphis Police about Abston-Henderson, but no one followed through. She is now planning to sue the department.
“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. 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,” Lee said. “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.”
According to officials, the recurring funding for the additional forensic lab positions will be included in the state’s upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024, but in the meantime, the TBI will use existing funds in the FY 2022-2023 budget.
In a statement released on Thursday, Sept. 29, TBI director David Rausch said in a part, “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.”
During his visit, Lee also discussed how the state is looking to tackle crime in the Bluff City.
Among the things Lee has committed to doing is increasing patrols on the interstate. Initially, Shelby County was set to receive 20 state troopers, now, he plans to increase that number.
“We will continue to evaluate the use of those troopers. We believe that to the degree that we can support law enforcement efforts here in Shelby County with state troopers it contributes to the public safety,” Lee said.
At this time, Lee was unable to provide specifics about how many officers. Regardless, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says it’s needed.
“The more the highway patrol does the interstates the more city officers can focus on streets. It’s all about manpower and trying to get more law enforcement out there,” Strickland said.
Strickland also said the city is signing up for a grant from the state which will fund violent crime intervention programs.