‘Transparency and accountability’: Sen. London Lamar statement on reduced wait time for sexual assault kit tests
Memphis senator sponsored legislation requiring quarterly updates on hiring and test processing at TBI crime lab
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee crime lab is now returning sexual assault kit test results to local law enforcement in 22.7 weeks on average, or just under six months, according to a new report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
That’s an improvement from last August, when TBI says the average wait time for DNA results on sex assault cases was 45.4 weeks, just over 11 months.
Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, sponsored the law requiring the TBI to generate this quarterly report on sexual assault test times.
Lamar filed legislation to fix the issue of 11-month-long test times following the murder of Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old Memphis mother who was kidnapped and murdered last year. The accused killer was matched to a DNA test from a sexual assault that occurred a year earlier but was not processed in time for police to remove the convicted felon from the community.
“We filed this legislation because victims of sexual assault deserve transparency and accountability from the state and an 11-month wait time for DNA test results is an unacceptable threat to public safety,” said Sen. Lamar. “A six-month turn around time is still not where we need to be, but the TBI is making clear progress.
“As they hire and train more forensic scientists to process these sexual assault kits, I will be watching these numbers each quarter and demanding answers if we’re not achieving further reductions in test times with all the new resources dedicated by the legislature,” Lamar said.
The TBI performs blood and DNA testing for evidence from sexual assault cases at three crime laboratory locations in Nashville, Knoxville and Jackson. The TBI receives evidence from law enforcement agencies statewide. Metro Nashville Police Department operates its own laboratory to perform testing in cases investigated by MNPD.
Officials report there are currently 476 kits awaiting testing statewide — down from a 12-month high of 1,005.
The bureau is also hiring new positions in the crime lab to reduce test times.
“The TBI Crime Laboratories have 39 positions dedicated to performing Forensic Biology casework,” the report says. “20 employees (51.3%) have completed training. 19 employees (48.7%) are either in training (14) or are in the hiring process (5).”
The report also says TBI is outsourcing some testing to a company in Florida thanks to a $1.9 million of federal grant funding.