TBI struggling to hire due to salary concerns, director says

Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 10:43 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Agents, intel analysts, and forensic scientists. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), like so many other companies and corporations, can’t find enough qualified applicants to fill the ranks, and that’s impacting the testing of rape kits.

The head of the TBI told Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Wednesday that TBI salaries are way below other state agencies. In the TBI’s $45 million budget request to Lee, more than $27 million is earmarked to boost salaries in the agency.

Memphis and Tennessee made national headlines after the murder of Eliza Fletcher because of the fear it caused in this community, and because of the outrage when it was learned the man charged with the crime had been accused of rape a year earlier.

But, the victim’s rape kit collected dust on a shelf instead of getting tested in a timely manner.

During a TBI budget hearing, Governor Lee asked TBI Director David Rausch if the state’s DNA testing on rape kits has gotten any faster since he made it a priority in September.

“Have we had an impact on turnaround time yet?” Governor Lee asked.

“So, we’ve seen small adjustments on turnaround time,” Rausch replied.

Six weeks ago, Governor Lee announced 25 new positions would be added to TBI crime labs to speed up rape kit processing.

The move was made in response to the Eliza Fletcher case.

Her accused killer, Cleotha Abston-Henderson, is also charged with raping a young woman named Alicia Franklin. The charges in the rape case were filed after Fletcher’s death because Franklin’s rape kit went untested for nearly a year, the results not known until after the abduction and murder that shook Memphis to its core.

Director Rausch told Lee the TBI’s salaries simply aren’t competitive with other state agencies, or even local police agencies.

”The challenge still exists, I think, for salary modernization,” said Rausch. “It’s going to impact all of this. We’re still seeing the challenge of being able to hire people at the salary we offer for the positions that are not comparative when you look somewhere else.”

Testing of sexual assault kits in Tennessee takes anywhere from 33 to 49 weeks, and there’s a backlog of hundreds of kits.

Starting salary for a TBI forensic agent according to the State of Tennessee website is $3,777 a month.

Gov. Lee is now waiting to see how much higher the salaries should be in order to fill the high-profile jobs now under a microscope.

”That one is particularly important,” Lee said, “because of the awareness we have about the problem. So let us know that in this budget process.”

Rausch told Governor Lee one candidate who turned them down said he could make twice as much money driving a truck.

The TBI is not only losing out on potential hires.

The director says seasoned agents are leaving, being cherry-picked by local police agencies who offer much better, higher-paying jobs.

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