MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The governor’s office has announced that more forensic positions will be added to the lab that tests rape kits for the Memphis area to help accelerate the process.
The governor’s office says the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Jackson lab will have eight more forensics positions, including scientists, technicians, and administrative support.
The Jackson Lab is where the TBI tests sexual assault kits from Memphis.
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 of 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 September 5, 2022, when Fletcher’s body was found.
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 Memphis Police Department.
Gov. Bill Lee released a statement Thursday afternoon.
“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. 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.”
The governor’s office also says the Nashville lab will get 11 more positions, and the Knoxville lab will get six more positions.
In a statement released Thursday, 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, Gov. 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, Governor 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.
Mayor Strickland also says the city is signing up for a grant from the state which will fund violent crime intervention programs.