NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Some tension ruled the room when the awkwardly-named Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Adequacy of the Supervision, Investigation, and Release of Criminal Defendants met again Thursday.
Lawmakers heard law enforcement sound the alarm on staffing and pay issues.
“Two main things exist for us,” TBI Director David Rausch said. “One is we need personnel, and two is we need our pay to be competitive.”
Though the dialogue remained very respectful, law enforcement strongly encouraged the subcommittee created after the string of Memphis crime earlier this month to consider giving more funding to agencies around the state.
The issue came to a head after we learned the suspect in the Eliza Fletcher murder case was walking free while a rape kit linking him to a previous assault sat in a lab, untested. The agency says it has a huge backlog, meaning it can be a year or more before some cases are even looked at.
“The problem is I’ve got a bucket of about 1000 cases to work through,” TBI Crime Labs Assistant Director Mike Lyttle said. “The problem is, of that 11 months, it probably spent about nine and a half months sitting on a shelf waiting for its turn to be worked and about six weeks of actual work time to get it done.”
When the Fletcher case came up, Rausch concurred.
“They submitted the case appropriately,” he said. “The issue was resources.”
But the issue is complex. With there now being a huge backlog of testing, should there be any cases that take priority?
“How are we prioritizing violent crimes?” Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) asked.
“We have to be careful. We certainly try to consider the status of cases as they come in,” Rausch said. “But we have to be careful that we don’t become the investigative agency for that local agency who has submitted to determine whose case is more important than whom’s.”
Officials say juvenile crime is on the rise here in Tennessee. In fact, one public safety official in Memphis says Shelby County is expected to have 500-600 juvenile violent crime cases this year.
“Frankly, there are not many options in terms of how to handle those,” University of Memphis Public Safety Institute Executive Director Bill Gibbons said. “Now, a few may get transferred but not many. A few may go to a DCS secure facility, but not many because there’s no space.”
Of course, there really isn’t a free solution. Money has to come from somewhere.
“It’s your money. It’s there to keep you safe. That’s how we want to invest it, to make sure that the money that is spent in Tennessee, that belongs to Tennesseans, is spent to keep Tennesseans safe,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) said. “So, yes, this is going to cost money, and it’s worth every penny.”