The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation requested a $59 million budget increase in its budget hearing this week with Gov. Bill Lee and advisers.
The request includes $24.9 million for a career path initiative that will assist with recruitment and retention of staff, an issue many government agencies cited in hearings this week.
TBI's proposal also included requests for $11.7 million for one-time training and equipment and $10.2 million to hire forensic services positions, including $5.65 million in recurring expenses and $4.5 million in one-time expenses.
“COVID actually taught us a few things,” TBI Director David Rausch said. “Taught us how to be a little more efficient with our resources. So we’ve seen some efficiencies. It’s shown us that we could do things differently in the lab that we didn’t consider prior to, so we learned from that. And it’s helped on our assessment of where our numbers are.”
Rausch said he understands all departments are fighting for funding, but he was presenting a plan he felt would make the department as efficient as it could be.
Rausch said evidence processing time was a concern. Of the evidence the TBI lab processes, he said, 98% is for partner organizations since the TBI lab is the main lab for that type of evidence in Nashville. While he believes the department is 90% efficient, he believes adding staff could bring down evidence wait times in order to ensure a speedy trial as defined by law.
“These fixes will set the course for the bureau into the future,” Rausch said.
When Tennessee Chief Operating Officer Brandon Gibson asked how easy it would be to hire scientists to fill the positions, Rausch said retention was one of the more difficult aspects of employment for the department.
“The challenge is the pay, because we’re not competitive,” Rausch said.
Rausch’s presentation showed the goal wait time for evidence processing would be two to 12 weeks. The state has the most cases per scientist in a seven-state surrounding area, including in the specialties of forensic biology, toxicology and forensic chemistry.
Rausch also proposed spending $2.2 million in recurring spending to expand cyber investigations. TBI also proposed spending $3.4 million on a violent crime and narcotic reduction unit with $2.2 million of that being annual spending and $1.2 million as a one-time expense.
Rausch cited a recent investigation into drug trafficking that found a Mexican cartel shipping drugs directly to east Tennessee. He said the top drugs that are investigated and found include methamphetamine, marijuana, fentanyl and heroin. He said that virtually all of the meth is coming from Mexico.
“It’s highly pure, which makes it even more dangerous,” Rausch said.
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