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NASHVILLE — While Tennessee's violent crime figures fell 8.4% overall during the first seven months of the coronavirus pandemic, gun-related violent crimes rose 25% and aggravated assaults with a firearm jumped more than 40%.

In the stand-alone category of homicide with a firearm, meanwhile, figures rose just shy of 50% during the March-through-September 2020 period over 2019, rising from 224 homicides last year during the seven-month period to 335 this year.

That's the grim assessment Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch provided last week when the former Knoxville police chief went before Gov. Bill Lee for the agency's fiscal year 2021-2022 budget hearing.

"There is a continued increase throughout the past several months and that concerns us greatly," Rausch told Lee of the rise in gun-related violent crime. "We look at murder with a firearm specifically, and that is important because the TBI works the vast majority of homicides in the state of Tennessee. And we have seen homicide with a firearm increase consistently during this period, which brings great concern."

Aggravated assault with a firearm rose from 2019's 8,841 to 12,776 during the seven-month period, TBI figures show.

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Tennessee Bureau of Investigation budget hearing

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Noting the increase in aggravated assault with a firearm, Rausch noted, "I always tell people the difference between aggravated assault and homicide is good medical care, quite frankly. Tennessee is blessed with having good trauma surgeons that save a lot of lives that could end up in the numbers now."

Rausch said overall investigations in TBI's Criminal Investigation Unit "decreased slightly" during the state's later-eased COVID-19 lockdown.

"But they've begun to increase to our pre-COVID levels," Rausch said.

The CID's field unit expects to see about a 6.3% increase in total cases this year compared to 2019, he added.

Mental health and wellness are a "major issue in COVID," according to Rausch. An internal TBI study showed "concerning numbers" involving officer-involved shootings, he said.

Since the beginning of March, there have been 32 officer-involved shootings investigated by TBI agents, according to Rausch.

"Of those, we have reason to believe that based on interviews in those investigations, 56% of these incidents were potentially suicide by officer. That is concerning," he said.

That is based on interviews with spouses in which they described events leading up to the arrival of officers, he added.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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