Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $2,241,233)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) requests funding in the amount of $2,241,233 under the FY 2021 DNA Capacity Enhancement for Backlog Reduction Program opportunity through U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance. The TBI is the state crime lab responsible for processing evidence for every law enforcement agency and medical examiner throughout 95 counties and 31 jurisdictions in Tennessee, including 315 submitting agencies in 2020. If approved, this funding will allow the TBI to implement a 24-month project to continue to reduce DNA casework/database backlogs and improve turnaround times by enhancing the agencies capacity to address existing barriers.
From 2016 to 2020, the TBI’s Forensic Biology Unit received an average of 2,533 cases per year, processing an average of 2,672 requests, and completing 9.1 percent more cases in 2020 than were received, allowing an 18.2% reduction in its backlog from 2019 to 2020 alone (from 1,229 to 1,005). The average turnaround time for DNA analysis also decreased by 59.4 days from 2019 to 2020 (222 to 162.6).
During the same time frame, the CODIS Unit received an average of 27,474 database samples, reviewed and uploaded 25,968 results, and conducted DNA verification tests for an average of 744 hits each year. The CODIS Unit also saw a 52% reduction in its backlog from 2018 to 2019 alone (from 6,179 to 2,962) due to the identification of duplicate samples and implementing a process to store those samples and reduce unnecessary testing.
Despite this progress, forensic turnaround time is anticipated to increase due to vacancies in Forensic Scientist positions and a re-opening of Tennessee courts post COVID-19, and the CODIS turnaround time also remains high (13 to 15 weeks). Therefore, the TBI continues to examine existing barriers and implement strategies to address them through awarded funding to reduce turnaround time, increase throughput, and reduce forensic/database samples awaiting analysis by continuing, improving existing, and implementing new strategies to prevent future bottlenecks and backlog expansion.
Key objectives/activities planned for the FY2021 project period include: the addition of STRmix and PACE software programs for enhanced identification and interpretation of complex DNA Mixtures to increase the number of DNA profiles that can be fully developed for comparison and CODIS entry; reconfiguration and renovation of lab and office spaces to improve capacity to house additional Forensic Scientist and improve collaboration and workflows; and provision of required annual training for all staff.