Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $2,917,201)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) requests funding in the amount of $2,917,201 under the FY 2022 DNA Capacity Enhancement and 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. 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 2017 to 2021, the TBI’s Forensic Biology Unit received an average of 2,455 cases per year, processing an average of 2,580 requests, and completing an average of 5.5 percent more cases than were received, allowing for a significant reduction in its backlog to 689 cases at the end of 2020. The average turnaround time for DNA analysis also decreased by 60.7 days from 2019 to 2021 (222 to 161.3).
During the same time, the CODIS Unit received an average of 26,288 database samples, reviewed and uploaded 21,723 results, and conducted DNA verification tests for an average of 723 hits each year. The CODIS Unit also saw a 98% reduction in its backlog from 2018 to 2021 (from 6,179 to 126) due to the identification of duplicate samples and implementing a process to store those samples and reduce unnecessary testing.
Despite this progress, forensic and database turnaround time have increased due to scientist vacancies and the re-opening of Tennessee courts post COVID-19. As the TBI seeks to open an in-house sample processing CODIS lab in Jackson, increased turnaround time during this transition is also anticipated. Therefore, the TBI continues to examine existing barriers and implement strategies 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 activities planned for this project include: the addition of Database sample software program for to bring database sample tracking up to date with national standards and reduce potential errors associated with CODIS entry; replacement of dated PCR enclosures, improve workflows between lab information management system and new sexual assault kit tracking system; and on-going purchase of essential supplies for forensic biology testing, including Y-screening, and review of profiles for upload into CODIS.