Tennessee's new top cop says he is revamping hiring processes and placing stricter controls over the use of agency aircraft as he attempts to restore the image of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
It follows an on-going NewsChannel 5 investigation of who investigates the investigators.
Over the past year, our investigations had revealed how hiring inside the TBI was marked by favoritism and how the agency’s aircraft had been used for the director’s convenience.
“I'm relatively new to this job, and when I arrived we found ourselves as an agency in a moment of controversy. That mess was well-documented by a Nashville television station," TBI Director David Rausch said in a video posted last week on the agency's social media sites.
He echoed a similar theme in a news conference last week.
“We have to prove that we are worthy of the public's trust -- and, to do that, we have to make some changes," Rausch told reporters.
The agency was mired in a sex scandal involving the TBI’s former acting director, Jason Locke, when Rausch took over in late June.
“I'm not going to say trust me because we're the TBI," Rausch told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. "I'm going to say trust me because we are going to do it the right way.”
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Rausch’s approach marks a dramatic change from his predecessor, Mark Gwyn.
After our investigation discovered examples of Gwyn giving preferential treatment in hiring the sons of TBI bigwigs as special agents, even though they had no experience, the former director defended the so-called “legacy” hires.
“To turn my back on that young man who wants to live that dream of following in his father's footsteps -- or anyone else out here that wants to follow in their parents' footsteps -- I'm not going to do that,” Gwyn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates last November.
In doing that, the TBI bypassed veterans who had served their country and who had actual law enforcement experience.
Rausch said he has a different approach.
“There's going to be less of an opportunity for people to personally influence, rather than the way it should be -- and that is the right people should be getting the opportunities,” the new director said.
Rausch said his team is continuing to revamp the TBI’s hiring processes.
While applicants from TBI families will certainly be given serious consideration, Rausch explained, "I don't think just because they are the child of someone who works here that gives them an edge up on anyone else.”
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked if that meant there should be a minimal level of experience.
“I think there should be a minimal level of experience," Rausch said. "I think they should compete along with everybody else that's in the process.”
Then, there’s the use of the TBI’s $10 million Pilatus airplane, which the former director’s team marked with his date of birth -- 5-63 -- and his initials.
Gwyn sometimes used it to fly to meetings in Washington to avoid the hassles of flying commercial.
"It was simply, I was trying to be as efficient as I could with my time," the former director said back in April.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Gwyn, "Did you look at what would be the most efficient for the taxpayers?"
Gwyn responded, "You know, I guess when you have to look at that, what do you think about is efficient for my time. What is my time worth?"
Again, Rausch said he has a different way.
“Last week, I had to go up to D.C. for a meeting on hate crimes, and I used commercial air," he said. "I've got a couple more meetings coming up. Same thing. I'll be using commercial air to get to those.”
The new director has created an aviation unit and put controls in place to make sure the aircraft is available for surveillance and other flights that are critical to TBI cases.
Rausch also said he and his staff will travel the state by car unless they’re facing a time crunch where that’s just not feasible.
“Fiscally, it's the appropriate thing to do -- and so we look at that. And that asset, that air asset has to be there for casework as our primary purpose.”
The TBI director said he has also revamped critical processes within the agency, making the general counsel report directly to him so that he’ll personally be able to oversee internal investigations.
And, as we reported last week, he’s also promising new transparency in making future internal investigations public.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates: The Investigators