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Pot tops list of drugs seized by TBI, while fentanyl is number one among prescription drugs detected in submissions to lab

J. H. Osborne • Nov 4, 2018 at 1:30 PM

KNOXVILLE — Do you think the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is by law required to be involved in investigating officer-involved shootings across the state? When you hear the TBI is on a case, do you assume that means they're in charge and leading the investigation?

The answer to both those questions is no. Those are among myths TBI officials sought to dispel last week during a media day at the agency's Knoxville offices and crime lab.

Agents also shared some statistics, including: “the top five drugs (by quantity) seized last year are processed marijuana; methamphetamine; cocaine powder; heroin; and mushrooms; the TBI’s crime laboratory saw a 40 percent increase last year in the number of drugs submitted by other agencies for analysis; and the number one prescription drug among those samples sent to the lab was fentanyl, described as a synthetic opioid compound approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl case submissions to the TBI lab have soared from just three in 2012 to 341 last year and trending this year toward more than 700. Readily absorbed through the skin, the drug poses a serious risk to law enforcement officers and lab workers. 

Jurisdiction

The TBI has orginal jurisdiction for certain types of crimes, meaning it can investigate those on its own. Those include human trafficking, drug operations, public corruption, official misconduct, fugitives, and internet crimes against children.

For most other crimes the TBI's involvement must be requested from the district attorney general from the local jurisdiction in which the crime occurred.

Who's in charge?

On orginal jurisdiction cases, the TBI leads its own investigtion. For other cases it sometimes will lead but often acts as support and backup for the local authorities, providing technical assistance.

The TBI does not determine when or if a shooting was justified. It gathers and processes evidence and provides its findings back to the local jurisdiction, which will make the call on whether charges are warranted.

Regional link to birth of TBI

According to the TBI’s website:

• The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was born as a result of a highly publicized murder in Greene County in December 1949. The heinous crime aroused the emotions of citizens throughout the region. In an address to the Tennessee Press Association in January 1951, John M. Jones Sr., publisher of the Greeneville Sun, called for the creation of an unbiased state agency to assist local law enforcement in the investigation of serious crimes.

• On March 14, 1951, then-Gov. Gordon Browning signed a bill into law establishing the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification (TBCI) as the "plainclothes" division of the Department of Safety. On March 27, 1980, following a series of legislative hearings, the organization was re-established as an independent agency and renamed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

Drug Investigation Division

State lawmakers created the TBI’s Drug Investigation Division in 1998. It currently has 46 agents statewide and can partner with local and/or federal agencies. The number of agents will be rising to 56 thanks to increased funding earmarked for that by the Tennessee General Assembly last session. The hottest topic for this division is the opioid crisis. Response to that has evolved in recent years in more than one way, as users have shifted from prescription medications to heroin (which sometimes now is laced with fentanyl) and other cheaper street drugs. Methamphetamine labs aren’t as prevalent as they once were across the state, but that downturn in local production has caused an uptick in meth, or “ice,” coming in from out of the country — and because it can be stronger, it can be even more dangerous to users.

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