Crime lab move to Jackson will have little impact, TBI director says

By Yolanda Jones  |  Daily Memphian

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is moving its crime lab for West Tennessee from Memphis to Jackson, where a new $25 million facility is set to open next year.

Some have questioned the impact of the move from Memphis, but TBI Director David Rausch says the relocation won’t hurt the processing of evidence for Memphis.

<strong>David Rausch</strong>

David Rausch

Rausch was in Memphis recently for a retirement party and spoke with The Daily Memphian about the move.

“We certainly understand that Memphis and Shelby County are large partners with us and, quite frankly, bring us a lot of work,” he said. “But when you look at the overall picture with all of West Tennessee, there’s actually more work that comes from the other areas, so this makes sense to make it convenient for all of our partners in the west. And Jackson is more central to all our partners.”

Construction of the new crime lab has been in the works since 2015, but work did not begin until 2018 because of delays and a scandal involving the former TBI director.

Rausch, who has been the director for 21 months, said the facility is expected to be finished in June 2021. The 50,000-square-foot lab will include space for forensic biology, firearms including an indoor range, CODIS DNA testing, toxicology, forensic chemistry, crime scene and breath alcohol and evidence receiving. TBI special agents will have office space and meeting rooms as well.

Turner Construction of Memphis is building the facility, which will serve Shelby County and 21 counties in West Tennessee.

Rausch said when the crime lab moves to Jackson, the Memphis TBI offices will remain open. The offices will serve as a drop-off point for law enforcement locally and throughout Western Tennessee if they don’t want to drive the evidence to Jackson.

“We certainly understand their concern about having to get somebody in a vehicle and transport it over to Jackson,” Rausch said. “We are going to set up an evidence receiving point at the office where our investigators are now. Law enforcement won’t have to make that drive to Jackson. We will take care of that for them. That’s a commitment I have made to help make it easier and to take that expense from the locals as well.”

The state has three crime labs, with the other two in Knoxville and Nashville. TBI agents process evidence from homicides and drug cases, and they also analyze DNA, fingerprints and ballistic evidence at the labs for law enforcement throughout the state.

During a hearing last year for Sherra Wright and Billy Ray Turner, the two defendants charged in the fatal shooting of former NBA star Lorenzen Wright, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee told attorneys he knew there was a delay with evidence from the lab. He told them if they needed DNA evidence immediately, they should reach out to TBI agents.

Rausch said any law enforcement officials who need evidence immediately can likewise reach out to his office.

And with the new larger lab in Jackson, agents will have more storage and more up-to-date technology to help turn around evidence quickly, he said.

“So what we anticipate (is) we will be able to expand what we do,” Rausch said. “I’m in the process of right now evaluating our entire lab system to determine what level of manpower and resources we need at all three labs.”

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said she doesn’t anticipate any issues with the lab moving from Memphis to Jackson, but a delay in processing evidence was one of her initial concerns with the relocation.

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