TBI Director Requests Funding For Better Salaries To Hire Employees To Deal With Rape Kit Backlog
Image Credit: rapecrisis.com
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
State law enforcement officials have requested $45 million in new funding from the state, funding that they say is imperative if they are going to be able to cut down on processing times for rape kits.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has found itself the subject of harsh criticism after the suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Memphis school teacher Eliza Fletcher was linked to evidence from a kit for a 2021 rape. The kit had been unprocessed in TBI’s Jackson office for over 11 months.
TBI Director David Rausch has asked Governor Bill Lee to set aside an additional $45.3 million dollars to help add additional employees to the agency. The plan will create 71 new positions, 25 of which will be allotted for new jobs in the forensics department.
According to Rausch, the agency has been unable to process evidence in a more expedited time frame because they have had difficulty hiring and keeping employees who are able to do that job. The current salary structure has not provided them with the resources to offer competitive salaries.
Rausch says that six of the nine potential employees selected in this month’s hiring process have already withdrawn their requests for employment after learning of the low pay.
One recent withdrawal notification stated, “Withdrawing due to job offer from another agency with double the salary.”
Rausch says that pay for investigators is not comparable to that offered in surrounding states. He also noted that starting pay for local law enforcement agencies such as Metro Nashville is several thousand dollars higher than that of the TBI.
“We’re being cherry picked,” Rausch said. “We’re still seeing the challenge of being able to hire people at the salary we offer…especially for forensics.”
The request for additional funding for the TBI is nothing new, but receiving that money would be a change. Last year, the department requested money to create 50 new lab positions, but the legislature only gave them money for fewer than half of those.
Governor Lee provided funding for 25 new forensic scientists and administration positions in September, just after Fletcher’s murder. He noted that turnaround has improved, but he has asked the TBI to submit their plan for just how additional money will actually help to speed up that process.
“Obviously, it’s a real problem. We’ve had that problem for years, and we can’t correct it instantaneously or immediately, but we can correct it faster if we spend the money wisely,” Lee said.
Rausch says that “small adjustments on turnaround” have been seen and that his current staff is working overtime to process them more quickly.
“We’re going to continue to see these incremental increases in terms of the ability to turn around a little faster – but they are incremental at this point,” Rausch stated. “Salary modernization is going to impact all of this.”
Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty have also filed legislation that would help to allot additional federal funding to work towards decreasing the backlog of rape kits across the country.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com