By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A former Lakes Region officer turned rapist has been added to a national registry designed to prevent other law enforcement agencies from hiring officers ousted from jobs elsewhere.
The New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council charged with licensing and training law enforcement as well as correctional officers in the state, voted unanimously to indefinitely revoke the certification of Ernest Justin Blanchette, and to enter his name in the National Decertification Index.
Ernest Blanchette at sentencing in April. (Bea Lewis/File photo)
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have a process for removing the licenses of police officers for misconduct, a process commonly known as decertification. The index aims to collect those records, but participation is limited to 39 states, including New Hampshire.
Federal money helped launch the index in 2000 after state police standards officials came together through their national association to create a bare-bones system for sharing decertification records, but the Justice Department no longer funds it.
Criminal justice advocates have long called for the creation of a clearinghouse of information on bad cops similar to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks malpractice lawsuits and complaints against doctors. Those calls have been rejected by Congress and opposed by some law-enforcement groups, particularly police unions worried about creating a blacklist.
The database now contains the names of about 20,000 former officers who were pushed out of law enforcement. The index has been used inconsistently, however, and many officers who are stripped of their badges in one jurisdiction are free to move to another.
Some police representatives would have you believe that “gypsy cops,” as such officers are sometimes referred to, represent an overstated and barely existent threat at best. But others eye decertification and adding the names of bad cops to the national registry as a powerful mechanism for ensuring integrity in law enforcement.
Last year, following a yearlong investigation, the Associated Press reported that the index was missing thousands of names because the voluntary, privately run effort does not include every state, and vast variations exist in how local municipalities and states track and handle police misconduct.
During their September meeting the New Hampshire Police Council voted to add the names of two disgraced officers to the registry, including Blanchette.
In support of their unanimous action, the council reviewed Blanchette’s law enforcement background that began when he was hired by the Laconia Police Department on Nov. 18, 2002. In March 2003, after successfully completing the New Hampshire Police Academy, Blanchette received his certification to work as a full-time officer.
In October 2011, Blanchette resigned from Laconia Police Department, and the same day was hired by the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department. In September 2014, he was promoted to sergeant. He resigned in lieu of dismissal on Aug. 28, 2015.
On Sept. 9, 2015, the Police Standards and Training Council sent a letter to Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin inquiring if the resignation in lieu of firing was due to a violation of the Council’s administrative rules, for reasons of lack of moral character as defined by their policies; or for acts or omissions of conduct which would cause a reasonable person to have doubts about the individual’s honesty, fairness, and respect for the rights of others and for the laws of the state or nation.
In a response dated Sept. 11, 2015, addressed to Police Standards and Training Council Director Donald Vittum, Sheriff Wiggin included copies of the investigative report which led to Blanchette being indicted on Oct. 15, 2015, on a charge of aggravated felonious sexual assault against an inmate whom he was transporting on July 2, 2015, from Belknap County Superior Court to the New Hampshire Prison for Women.
Blanchette is currently serving a 10-to-20-year prison sentence in an out-of-state correctional facility. He is eligible to have two years of his minimum sentence suspended if he completes a sexual offender treatment program.
According to the minutes of the Police Standards and Training Council Sept. 28 meeting, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster commented that he believed the public would be impressed by how tough law enforcement is on rogue officers and that if there was more awareness of how seriously the council handles misconduct among its ranks, that it would increase respect for the profession.
In 2015, the council decertified two officers and suspended the certifications of six others. In 2014, the council decertified two officers, accepted the surrender of one officer’s certification and suspended the certifications of seven others. In 2013, there were two decertifications, acceptance of the surrender of two certifications and 16 suspensions.
The council actions involved a mix of municipal police officers, state troopers, corrections officers, probation/parole officers and deputy sheriffs.
Handcuffs hang from the bars of a door in a holding cell at Laconia District Court. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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