City of Memphis teaming up with TBI to help test backlogged rape kits

The City of Memphis is getting more help when it comes to testing the backlog of rape kits. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will beef up personnel in a key area of the process.

A letter of agreement obtained by FOX13 was signed just two days ago. It ensures an important gap in the process stays bridged for at least the next three years.

That is key because, as of today, there are nearly 6,000 victims still waiting for answers.

The City of Memphis sent $298,000 across the state to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In return, the TBI will hire three administrative assistants to do data entry on tested rape kits.

“That says that the TBI has taken on some people to do a very critical piece of this work,” Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, told FOX13.

Data entry might not seem that important, but Clubb, who is on the front lines of the rape kit task force, said the new hires come at a needed time.

“We won't have gotten anywhere if we just send these things to the lab and get that report, unless the TBI has the people to do this piece of it,” Clubb told FOX13.

Once a kit has been analyzed at the lab, a report is sent back to TBI. The admin clerks will follow a defined set of rules to enter the results into a national database, which police can then use to look for suspect DNA matches.

“We can't get anywhere without this step,” Clubb explained.

But going down the path of progress comes with a price. Memphis paid the $298,000 to TBI from a federal Department of Justice Grant.

“This is just a piece of evidence that people are kind of working a little bit better together,” Senator Lee Harris told FOX13.

Senator Harris, who has also served on city council, said he has seen “who funds what” lead to political posturing a number of times.

“Whether it comes from the county, city, state or in this case the DOJ, it's sort of beside the overall arching point that we've all got to work together,” Senator Harris said. “We've all got to get on the same page, and these rape kits have to be processed.”

Nearly half of the 12,000 backlogged kits have been tested so far. This agreement helps ensure that process continues.

A TBI spokesperson told FOX13 me the admin assistants have not yet been hired.

The city did not make anyone available for comment.

The agreement for the new assistants and the $298,000 will be spread out over three years, ending in 2018.