City leaders discuss possibility of opening crime lab in Memphis

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 10:40 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Talks are happening now with some of Memphis’ top leaders on how to use money to combat serious crimes.

One idea — a crime lab here in the Bluff City.

It’s one item city council members say is a priority for solving cases quicker and providing answers to victims by testing DNA evidence in-house.

Right now, the city sends DNA evidence to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) lab in Jackson.

City council is in the beginning stages of discussions about this and says there’s no price tag too large to keep Memphis safe.

“What can we do to keep them Memphis safer?” asked Councilman Worth Morgan. “And how can we improve the quality of lives and deliver justice for victims that have been victims of crime?”

Morgan and Chairman Martavius Jones believe a lab is a possible solution.

“There was, in my opinion, there was a shared sense of urgency,” said Chairman Jones. “This is a priority for the safety of our community. It was a shared sentiment among all council members, but that wasn’t a priority for the administration and we were disappointed about that.”

The suggestion comes after high-profile cases like the abduction and killing of Eliza Fletcher whose accused killer, Cleotha Henderson, allegedly raped another woman almost a year before Fletcher’s murder.

Alicia Franklin’s sexual assault kit sat on a shelf in the Jackson lab for nearly a year and was only entered into a national database three days after Fletcher’s body was found because of the link between the DNA evidence.

The Tennessee General Assembly is giving $42 million to the TBI for personnel and raises, but Morgan questions whether those resources will be enough or efficient for Memphis, saying it currently takes the agency on average 10 months to return evidence.

“I’m certainly open to doing the footwork on what a crime lab would look like in this region,” said Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis.

Chief Davis is ready for talks about the possibility and plans to return to council with numbers on how much DNA evidence the department sends to the TBI lab in Jackson.

“DNA evidence leads to arrests,” said Morgan. “It leads to convictions. In some rare but important circumstances, it leads to exonerations as well. We need to be a part of the 21st century and do everything we can to continue to partner with TBI, but maybe we can do more on our end and build up facilities here.”

Funding for a crime lab is not currently included in the overall budget, but council did approve setting aside $600,000 for architecture and engineering.

Chief Davis also floated the possibility of a regional crime lab and proposed MPD not solely foot the bill for it.

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