State Suspends Military Surplus Coordinator

Posted at 6:07 PM, Jul 18, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:30:47-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The state of Tennessee is conducting a full review of a program that sends surplus military equipment to local police departments.

Late Thursday, the state put the head of the Tennessee's Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), Elbert Baker, on administrative leave.

A spokesman with the Department of General Services said Baker apparently did not tell his bosses that the federal government suspended Tennessee from the program for two months last year.

Baker's job is to oversee distribution of surplus military equipment to police departments across the state, and to communicate with the Department of Defense.

But hours before our story aired Thursday, the state put Baker on administrative leave.

"We began getting concerned about the accuracy of what we were conveying to you and of course providing timely, accurate information is important to us," said David Roberson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, which oversees the LESO program in Tennessee.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered a letter from the Department of Defense after a series of public records requests.

The letter shows the Department of Defense suspended Tennessee from the military program last year, but state officials say Baker never told his bosses about the suspension.

"I was not aware of that, and others in DGS (Department of General Services) administration were not aware of that, until it come out in the course of responding to your inquiries," Roberson said.

Tennessee was suspended for two months because it failed to provide an inventory to the federal government of guns and other military equipment local police departments were getting.

Our investigation found one department received double the number of guns it ordered -- 161 guns for a department with 31 officers.

But we also discovered other departments lost or couldn't find weapons they received.

Documents provided to us late Thursday showed nearly 20 missing guns were reported to Baker's office last year.

"We decided it was best for our internal auditors to come in and examine the LESO program's records, files and processes," Roberson said.

Even though Baker is on leave, the program itself is still operating. That means local departments can still get surplus military equipment.

The big concern for state officials was communication coming from the LESO Office to the Department of General Services.

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