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Squabble Between TBI, Local Prosecutor Temporarily Stalls High-Profile Murder Investigation

A dispute between the attorney general of Tennessee’s 24th Judicial District and the head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation briefly caused the agencies to sever ties. That meant TBI sleuthing was temporarily halted last week across a five-county area in West Tennessee — including their work on the closely watched Holly Bobo case.

Both the TBI and the office of District AG Matt Stowe said in a joint statement Friday that their row had been put to rest. Nevertheless, Stowe has asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to take over the Bobo case.

According to a Dec. 17 TBI press release, the dispute arose from comments made by Stowe during a Dec. 12 meeting that included the TBI and a number of prosecutors from West Tennessee.

Gwyn said Stowe made “allegations of misconduct by TBI and other law enforcement agencies, both local and federal.”

Stowe also “repeatedly stated he wanted our Agency to suspend all activities in his district,” Gwyn added.

Stowe issued a statement the same day saying he “strongly denies” that he “initiated the suspension of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s support.” However, Stowe also sent Gwyn a letter earlier in the week acknowledging that the meeting “became unexpectedly heated and somewhat emotional. ” In that letter he requested that the TBI resume service to his district.

Stowe, elected to his post in August, has been critical of how the Bobo case has been handled by authorities since her disappearance more than three and a half years ago. According to the TBI release, the agency has “devoted thousands of hours of casework and forensic analysis” to the Bobo case.

The 20 year old nursing student went missing in April 2011 from her family home in Darden, Tenn. Her remains were discovered this September in the northern part of Decatur County. Six individuals have been charged in connection with the crime.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, whose office was supplying a prosecutor for the Bobo case, also released a statement acknowledging “a conflict arose as a result of how to proceed with the Holly Bobo case.” She added that the conflict led her to file a motion to remove their lawyer assisting in the case.

Adding to the tension between the TBI and the DA’s office, the judge in the Bobo case criticized the prosecution over how slowly the case was progressing.

During Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget hearings earlier this month, Gwyn told the governor he’s always striving to improve his agent’s training, because to “solve cases like Holly Bobo, you’ve got to have the very best trained agents in the county.”

The TBI is a great asset to the state because the agency can focus all of its energy on investigations, as opposed to a state police force that will have to handle traffic and other situations, Gwyn said at the hearing. He added that the agency will continue to “adhere to our policies and our procedures,” and wouldn’t “deviate” from its mission of investigations. “That’s what we do. And I want us to do it the best in the country,” he said.

The TBI, which has no official oversight body, operates on a sunset cycle and reports to the General Assembly every two to four years, depending on the findings of occasional Comptroller Office audits. The agency also reports to the governor during the state’s annual budget hearings.

Gwyn acknowledged to TNReport in December 2013 that the agency had no dedicated body for oversight of its actions. However, Gwyn asserted that the agency is “very regulated” and “scrutinized every day.”

“Well, I think the 6.4 million citizens, the Legislature, the governor, anybody that wants to oversee and make recommendations can make recommendations,” Gwyn said. He added the agency also goes “through audits all the time.”

State Sen. Mike Bell, an East Tennessee Republican who heads the upper chamber’s Government Operations Committee, told TNReport Friday that he didn’t foresee any changes being made to the oversight process for the state investigative agency. He added that while he’s heard “numerous” complaints about local law enforcement and drug task forces, he couldn’t recall many complaints about misconduct or corruption in the TBI during his time in state government.

Witnesses Announced for Mid-Sept Criminal Justice Reform Hearing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) August 26, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey today released the names of the witnesses scheduled to testify regarding proposed criminal justice reforms in Tennessee. The hearing will occur before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 15 – 16.

“These experts will help us learn from other states how to best protect the public while saving taxpayer dollars. Our committee is privileged to partner with such talented witnesses in the effort to improve the criminal justice system in Tennessee,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The witnesses will provide testimony on the following three subjects: 1) Criminal Justice Reform: How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) Criminal Justice Reform: What other states have done, and 3) Criminal Justice Reform: Suggested changes for Tennessee.

The scheduled witnesses for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Tommy Francis, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • Mark Gwyn, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County, Tennessee
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Chris Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, Sullivan County, Tennessee
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charlie White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

TBI Looks to Raise Awareness of Human Trafficking

Press release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; August 18, 2014: 

NASHVILLE – Today, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officially launched a new outreach to raise awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee.

The campaign, titled “IT Has To Stop,” hopes to increase awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee and beyond. The centerpiece of the campaign, ITHasToStop.com, features information, current research and statistics, video, important contacts, and links for visitors to join nonprofits and other groups in the efforts to curb trafficking in Tennessee. Visitors can also connect with the campaign on designated Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, it’s unacceptable, and it’s a crime in Tennessee,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We hope TBI’s new public awareness campaign sheds some much-needed light on the issue, so we can increase the number of people who insist it has to stop in our state and beyond.”

Research by The Polaris Project, a national leader in the fight against human trafficking, indicates it to be one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimate the number of children bought and sold in the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation to number at least 100,000. The average age of a trafficking victim is 13.

“Tennessee has recently been recognized for great strides in enacting laws to protect survivors of trafficking,” said Gwyn. “We also have trusted nonprofits on the frontlines of this troubling fight. Now, we hope this new effort is our state’s next step to rally public support and increase awareness of this kind of crime and the way out for those trapped.”

The site is available for review at www.ITHasToStop.com.

Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TBI Recommends Better ‘Deadly Force’ Police Training

Tennessee law enforcement officers fired their weapons a total of 234 times in the line of duty during a five year period, said a recently released Tennessee Bureau of Investigation study recommending improvements in training.

Tennessee Law Enforcement Officers: A Study in Deadly Force and Shooting Incidents” was conducted to investigate the impact of these incidents on individual officers, the departments and the law enforcement community, according to the authors. It didn’t address impacts on communities and other involved parties.

The research was gathered through interviews, surveys and roundtable with officers and agencies involved in shootings. Specific comments, or facts about the shooting incidents were not disclosed to allow the officers and departments to remain anonymous.

Of the responding agencies, 206 were police departments, 75 were sheriff departments, and the remaining 14 were agencies such as the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Highway Patrol.

About 50 percent of survey respondents indicated a need for better use-of-force training.

Annual deadly force training was reportedly conducted by 72 percent of the survey-responding agencies, semi-annual training by 14 percent and seven percent reported reviewing their policies quarterly. Annual firearms training was conducted by 57 percent of the agencies, while 26 percent train semi-annually and 12 percent bimonthly or quarterly.

Among the suggestions from officers, better methods are needed for dealing with mentally ill suspects, which was identified as a growing problem for officers.

A desire to have more local law-enforcement agency control over the disposal of seized weapons was also expressed by departments. While some departments sell or trade seized weapons, other officials said they felt they should do more to keep the weapons off the streets, though participants weren’t eager to suggest stricter gun laws, according to the study.

“Although participants in several regions were loath to advocate for any stricter gun laws, some participants resented the fact that current state law does not permit them to destroy seized weapons,” reported the study. “Some jurisdictions have no problem with selling or trading seized weapons while others, mostly representing larger cities, said that they would rather destroy guns than risk having a gun that they had sold be used in a subsequent crime. A law could be proposed which would allow some discretion in how seized weapons are disposed of based on the situation in the local community.”

Several departments reported that their inability under current state law to destroy seized weapons has caused them to waste storage space “stockpiling” seized weapons.

The Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System reports more than three-and-a-half million offenses committed in Tennessee during the time period of 2007-2011. Suspects used a gun against officers in 764 incidents, and 234 incidents involved police using a weapon against suspects, according to the study.

Of the 295 responding agencies, 84 reported having “at least one officer involved shooting,” defined in the report as “incidents where officers pulled a weapon or actually fired their firearm against another person.”

One agency had 64 shooting incidents, one had 39 incidents, one had 13, and another had six; five agencies had four incidents, three had three incidents, 11 had two incidents, 65 agencies had one incident and 207 had no incidents to report.

Although no impairment was reported in 118 incidents, drug impairment was reported on 32 of the occasions, alcohol impairment on 25 occasions and mental health issues were identified in another 25 incidents.

The TBI survey also found that “a disproportionate number of minorities…are involved in deadly force encounters with police.” It reported that “of the 234 incidents reported by Tennessee Law Enforcement agencies, the suspects were Caucasian in 120 incidents (51.3 percent), African American in 108 (46.7 percent) incidents and no answer in six occasions.”

Lawsuits against officers or agencies were filed in 20 cases, and the study offered no further information on any incidents involving legal action or whether or not the shootings were later determined to have been justified. The study did not report how many of those incidents resulted in injuries or deaths.

The TBI next intends to review training available to law enforcement agencies to identify the best methods to improve training. The study also recommends agencies consider upgrading “media relations” training to improve communications with the general public.

Legislation Seeks to End Statute of Limitations when DNA Evidence Available

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; April 4, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Under legislation already approved by the Tennessee Senate and scheduled for a floor vote in the House of Representatives, prosecutors will be able to continue their practice of proceeding with criminal charges against perpetrators even when they can’t be captured or even identified by name — as long as the individual’s unique DNA profile is known.

At a news conference attended by leading prosecutors and the Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mark Green, M.D., (R-Clarksville) and Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-14th Dist.), said the measure lets prosecutors “stop the clock” on the statute of limitations, the time limit by which criminal actions must be commenced.

The measure received unanimous approval by the Senate on Monday, April 1, and is now scheduled for a vote next week in the House of Representatives.

“This bill sends lawbreakers a clear message that Tennessee will use every available technology to track you down and bring you to justice — no matter how long it takes,” said Dr. Green, an emergency room physician who routinely gathers DNA evidence. “It helps keep Tennessee’s laws up to date with advances in medicine and science.”

“This legislation is a major step forward in making sure those people who commit the most egregious of crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Rep. Haynes. “I am proud of this legislation and thank every single person and organization involved in this project for working towards a safer Tennessee.”

The legislation codifies the practice used by 20th District Attorney General Torry Johnson in the case of Robert Jason Burdick, the so-called “Wooded Rapist,” whose crimes spanned more than a decade. His case was kept alive because a piece of skin he left at the scene of one of his earliest crimes provided law enforcement DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

“Even though the defendant in this case wasn’t taken into custody until several years after the crime, we were able to preserve the case through the DNA that was collected” at the time, noted Johnson in a statement. “The use of DNA as a way of identifying defendants and preventing the statute of limitations from running will help bring people to justice.”

On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed that prosecutors can properly commence a criminal action, effectively tolling the Statute of Limitations, in cases where the suspect’s unique DNA profile is known.

Both Dr. Green and Rep. Haynes praised the work of Johnson and Assistant District Roger Moore, who prosecuted the case.

“The ‘Wooded Rapist’ case shows the real potential of DNA evidence,” said Dr. Green. “The painstaking work of police and medical personnel to retrieve and preserve the DNA samples were rewarded when, years later, the perpetrator was finally identified — but it took the persistence and creativity of skilled prosecutors to bring him to justice. We want all Tennessee prosecutors to have these tools at their disposal.”

“Receiving justice for victims should not have a deadline,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, “especially when there’s DNA evidence available that could lead to solving a crime.”

“Laws need to be updated to keep up with technology and this legislation does just that,” Gwyn added. “There’s no reason a violent crime should go unsolved when you have DNA that could identify the perpetrator in the future.”

Senate sponsors of the bill, in addition to Green are: Senators Ketron, Finney, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Haile, McNally, Norris, Stevens, and Tracy. House sponsors of the bill, in addition to Haynes are: Representatives Lamberth, Rogers, Weaver, Shipley, Hardaway, Rich, Watson, Parkinson, Faison, Lundberg, Travis, Fitzhugh, Camper, White M, Shepard, Eldridge and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson.

Davidson Co. DA: No Charges Against Reps. Ford, Shipley

Press Release from the Office of Davidson County District Attorney, Jan. 9, 2012:

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson today announced he has completed a review of the investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into the actions of two state lawmakers and employees of the Tennessee Department of Health. Johnson says the report shows that while there were questionable actions made by some individuals, there was no evidence that these actions could sustain criminal charges.

On June 22, 2011, General Johnson asked for a full-scale TBI investigation into the actions of State Representatives Tony Shipley and Dale Ford, as well as employees of the Department of Health. The TBI received complaints about possible irregularities in actions taken by Ford and Shipley in collaboration with certain Department of Health employees. This complaint was then brought to the attention of General Johnson. The investigation focused on whether the lawmakers illegally pressured the Board of Nursing to reinstate three nurse practitioners it had previously suspended from practice.

For some time, TBI agents in East Tennessee have been conducting an investigation into deaths of patients of the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Clinic in Johnson City, Tennessee. The Department of Health was made aware of the seriousness of these allegations, and commenced its own investigation into the nurses’ activities. Because of its own findings, on March 11, 2010, the Tennessee Board of Nursing took emergency action against the three nurses, who were accused of over-prescribing medications at the clinic. The report of the nurses’ actions was additionally reviewed independently by a peer panel that also recommended they be disciplined. All three were summarily suspended within the guidelines of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Over the next six months, lawyers representing the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) of the Department of Health and the nurse practitioners engaged in extensive settlement negotiations in an effort to resolve the serious complaints. Eventually all three nurses, along with their lawyers, signed consent orders, which contained numerous factual findings of unprofessional conduct that justified discipline. The three agreed not to contest the summary suspension of their licenses and to pay substantial civil penalties and the costs of the proceedings. In essence, the nurses were placed on a form of strict probation designed to allow them to resume practice in the future, provided they met numerous terms and conditions. Although the nurses and their lawyers had agreed to the discipline established by the Board, Representatives Ford and Shipley sought to overturn those orders and contacted various employees of the Department of Health in that effort. In addition, Representative Ford filed a bill that would have created an additional committee tasked with reviewing certain types of disciplinary actions taken against license holders. And Representative Shipley sought to stall legislation that would extend the life of the Nursing Board.

In an apparent response to legislative pressure, at the Nursing Board meeting on May 5, 2011, one of the OGC attorneys presented new consent orders that would essentially dismiss all previous disciplinary actions against the nurses. The attorney claimed that there were defects in the previous orders, and that there was compelling new evidence that justified setting aside the disciplinary orders. Because of these assertions, the Board voted unanimously to rescind the previous discipline and to reinstate the licenses of all three nurses. However, there is no record of any procedural defects or compelling new evidence.

“The Board of Nursing is responsible for protecting the public from the dangers of unfit, incompetent, or unprofessional nurses,” says Johnson. “In this case, the Board did precisely that, only to be subjected to heavy-handed tactics by two state legislators, aided and abetted by some former employees of the Department of Health. Regrettably, both the Board and the Department of Health caved to perceived political pressure and set aside the previous discipline that all parties had agreed to. This is not how government is supposed to work, but it is not a crime since these lawmakers did not personally benefit from their actions nor did they individually have the actual power to harm the Board, the Department, or its employees. In the end, this is a case of political hardball, but not political corruption.”

“Any time there is an issue of possible public corruption, it warrants our further investigation, as we take these complaints very seriously,” says TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “A number of TBI agents have been actively engaged for some time in interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents as part of this investigation. In addition, we have consulted frequently with representatives of the Davidson County District Attorney’s office, and the State Attorney General’s office.”

Several of the principals at the Department of Health left that office after the two legislators initiated their involvement. Others left at the conclusion of the TBI probe. The initial TBI investigation into the deaths of patients of the clinic was launched in 2005 in the 1st Judicial District. That investigation is still open and under review by District Attorney General Tony Clark. That probe is not affected by the findings of the review of the lawmakers’ actions.

Detecting Forced Prostitution Now a TN Law Enforcement Priority

State law enforcement officials are looking to curtail human sex trafficking in Tennessee by increasing awareness and communication amongst the agencies most likely to encounter the problem.

Toward that end, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Wednesday held a one-day training session at TBI’s East Nashville headquarters.

After opening remarks from TBI director Mark Gwyn and U.S. attorney Jerry Martin, TBI assistant special agent in charge Margie Quin led the session.

Members of Tennessee law enforcement, social service workers and employees of the court system attended the session, which served as a crash-course on what officials called a billion-dollar sex industry, including details on the methods and terminology used by traffickers.

The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person forced to commit such acts is not yet 18-years-old. It also includes using such means to force a person into involuntary servitude, labor services or debt bondage.

Despite the prevailing perception that sex trafficking refers to minors or young adults bought from other countries and smuggled into the United States, officials stressed Wednesday that many trafficking victims are from right here in Tennessee.

The impetus for this and other similar sessions around the state was a statewide study released by TBI earlier this year, which looked into the presence of human sex trafficking in Tennessee and its impact on children.

The study’s approach was three-pronged: questionnaires were sent to members of law enforcement, social service workers, court officials and nonprofit agencies in each of the state’s 95 counties; focus groups comprised of individuals with relevant experience were assembled in West, Middle and East Tennessee; and case studies were done, profiling victims of human sex trafficking in the state.

A large portion of a presentation of the study’s findings Wednesday morning was devoted to convincing those in attendance of there legitimacy. Getting people to believe that sex trafficking is taking place in Tennessee is a hard sell, officials say, because the statistics and the crimes they reveal are startling.

In response to the questionnaire, 85 percent of the state’s counties reported at least one case of sex trafficking in the 24 months prior to the survey – slightly higher than the number of counties that report gang activity. Four counties – Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox – reported more than 100 cases of sex trafficking involving minors.

Those plus an additional four – Madison, Lawrence, Franklin and Hamilton – reported more than 100 cases involving adults – which, officials say are often young adults who were first brought in to the trade when they were barely teenagers.

Quin said in several cases, police departments were caught off guard by the news that sex trafficking was occurring in their county. In these cases, Quin said, social service workers or nonprofit agencies may have encountered victims, and responded accordingly to the TBI questionnaire, without ever notifying local law enforcement. The disconnect in communication and cooperation between agencies is a problem Quin hopes will be solved by group sessions like Wednesday’s.

“Facilitating dialogue between all these entities has become critical. These agencies are not talking. Law enforcement is not being notified of the victims in our state and we obviously can’t address what we don’t know exists,” she said.

“One of the biggest goals we have for the training is to bring all these groups to the table and get them talking and working together. We can’t all work separately on the issue and have a significant impact. Obviously what we’re doing right now is not working.”

However, Quin did point out what she sees as positive developments in the state’s effort against trafficking. In June, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a series of bills aimed improving protections for minors caught up in the sex trade and further equipping law enforcement against traffickers. Among the changes brought by the new legislation was the decriminalization of prostitution by minors, harsher punishment for johns who pay for sex with a minor – from a misdemeanor to a felony – and the establishment of a sex trafficking tip line.

The study also found that 79 percent of the various agency members who responded to the survey said they do not feel adequately trained to address human sex trafficking. Quin said that given that fact, the amount of reported cases of trafficking is all the more alarming. Once the various agencies are more aware of what to look for, she said, there’s no reason to expect that the number of trafficking cases won’t increase.

TBI Looks to Lift $3M from Gun-Carry Permit Revenues for Fingerprint Database

Tennessee’s Bureau of Investigation hopes to pull $3 million from handgun permit fees to upgrade the state’s fingerprinting database next year and says otherwise more crimes will go unsolved.

Although that practice is legal under state code, gun rights advocates say it’s unfair that a portion of their user fees fund activities that have little to do with law-abiding gun owners.

“The objective of the government to invest money in fingerprinting is not an activity that can be identified as servicing the permit holder process,” said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“Our view is they shouldn’t be charging essentially the permit holder for the cost, or even a substantial portion of the cost, for the technology and personnel when it’s a part of law enforcement that needs to be funded by the state’s general budget,” Harris said.

Every time someone buys a $115 Tennessee handgun permit, $15 is channeled to the TBI and held in a fund “for the sole purpose of updating and maintaining its fingerprint criminal history database,” according to state law. TBI has proposed taking a total of $3 million from that fund in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Storage for the state’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System database is now reaching capacity, TBI Director Mark Gwyn told Gov. Bill Haslam during a budget hearing Nov. 4 on Capitol Hill.

“If we don’t have this upgrade, we just will not be able to put any more latent fingerprints in the system, and obviously, if that there were to happen, there would be crimes that would not be solved,” Gwyn said at the hearing.

The agency is proposing a $65.9 million budget, including federal funds, which is 2.6 percent lower than the current year’s.

When asked to reduce the state share of the department’s spending by 5 percent, or $1.7 million, Gwyn said he would eliminate 18 filled agent positions and do away with another six vacant jobs that have been left empty for more than a year. The department now has almost 500 people on staff, including 328 gun- and badge-carrying agents.

In the last year, the department handled 1,818 active cases, contributed to 181 convictions and 247 arrests, according to TBI.

The governor is meeting throughout the month with agency directors to talk about their budget needs and determine where he may be able to cut as much as $400 million in next year’s spending plan to make up for expenses outpacing the state’s revenue growth. The governor is expected to propose a roughly $31 billion budget early next year.

TBI: TN Among States in Compliance with Federal Adam Walsh Act Mandates

Press Release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Sept. 30, 2011:

U.S. Justice Department gives TN nod for substantially complying with Adam Walsh Act

Nashville, Tenn. – The U.S. Department of Justice announced that Tennessee is one of fifteen (15) states that has substantially complied with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection Act. This designation ensures that Byrne Grant funding to the state will not be reduced by 10%, the penalty for non-compliance. The Justice Department’s Office of Sex Offender Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) reviewed compliance packet submitted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and determined that the state’s law, policies and procedures substantially complied with the Walsh Act.

Tennessee’s quest for compliance, which started following the Act’s passage in 2006, concluded with the submission of a compliance packet on July 6, 2011. The compliance packet included relevant state statutes along with state policies and procedures. TBI’s Sex Offender Registry Attorney and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Registry answered follow up questions from the SMART office and provided additional requested information during the two month review process.

“The TBI is proud to have helped Tennessee reach the federal standards of the Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act. We have worked very hard to meet this goal,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. TBI would also like to commend the state legislators, law enforcement agencies, the SMART office, and all of the other agencies that supported this effort. Tennessee is a safer place because of the Sex Offender Registry.”

Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry, which currently contains information about close to 18,000 sex offenders, has been in existence since 1995.

Although Tennessee received approval for substantial implementation, there are still some areas that may require further progress, including offenses included in the registry, the tiering of certain offenses, and the accumulation of required registration information. TBI will continue to work with fellow law enforcement agencies and the General Assembly to incorporate any needed changes to the registry.