TBI’s Average Turnaround Time for Rape Kit Analysis Is 45 Weeks

According to data provided to The Tennessee Star by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), the average time it takes for the state law enforcement agency to conduct analysis on sexual assault kits (SAKs) submitted to it by local law enforcement is 45 weeks.

That figure accounts for SAKs that are reviewed by TBI’s Jackson crime lab. In its Nashville lab, TBI tests and analyzes SAKs in about 25 weeks. In its Knoxville lab, that figure is around 30 weeks.

Keli McAllister, a TBI spokesperson, says “there are numerous factors that impact our turnaround times” but does not describe exactly what those factors are.

In a Tuesday statement, she suggested that the agency is understaffed, and said that the scientists who do the analyses work on more than just sexual assault cases.

“The length of time to work these cases is attributed to the workload of the four scientists assigned to this unit. These forensic scientists work every biological evidence submission, ranging from homicides to SAKs, to robberies, assaults, and break-ins,” she said. “In 2021, that included 602 evidence submissions.  These scientists are also responsible for responding to crime scenes when necessary and testifying in every court hearing and trial associated with their casework.”

TBI’s turnaround time for SAKs has come into question after a man called Cleotha Abston was charged last week for allegedly kidnapping and raping a woman in 2021.

Abston is also the primary suspect in the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher.

After his arrest in the Fletcher case, a DNA hit matched Abston from the alleged 2021 rape, leaving observers to question whether he would have been off the streets before the Fletcher incident had the SAK from the 2021 case been tested sooner.

TBI told The Star that Memphis police submitted the SAK on September 23, 2021. It was designated for analysis on June 24, 2022, and an initial report of the results was completed on August 29, 2022.

The turnaround time for the kit testing was more than 11 months, which is about 45 weeks – standard for TBI’s Jackson office.

A rush can be placed on SAKs if requested by local law enforcement, but no such rush was requested by the Memphis Police Department (MPD) in the September 2021 rape.

TBI says it is committed to becoming more efficient.

“… TBI has been working, in recent years, to vastly increase the capacity for forensic biology analysis in the state, and the governor and Tennessee General Assembly have approved substantial investments to add personnel to our crime laboratories,” the agency told The Star. “We are in the process of hiring three additional scientists and a technician to work forensic biology cases in our Jackson crime laboratory, as part of our ongoing effort to improve turnaround times. As directed by legislation from the general assembly, we’ve also launched a robust tracking system, for survivors to have more frequent updates about the status of their kit, as it works its way through our laboratory system.”

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “TBI Building” by TBI




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One Thought to “TBI’s Average Turnaround Time for Rape Kit Analysis Is 45 Weeks”

  1. Molly

    Grant after Grant = million$
    It seems to me that qualified outside labs could hv helped a great deal in preventing a back log by using the one time grant $$ from accumulating & now to help catch up
    There are university & many private labs in Tn that would probably trip over each other for a contract agreement.

    Also I would think outside labs are technologically better equipped than publicly funded ones bc of more flexibility in management & funding

    Using qualified outside labs would also help in budgetary issues re:expanding public employees & taxpayer funded liabilities