Five candidates in the race for Merrimack County sheriff

  • —Courtesy

  • James Valiquet, candidate for Merrimack County Sheriff —Courtesy

  • Dennis Crawford, Republican candidate for Merrimack County Sheriff —Courtesy

  • David Croft, Democratic candidate for Merrimack County Sheriff —Courtesy

  • Keith Mitchell, Democratic candidate for Merrimack County Sheriff —Courtesy

  • Michael Labrecque, Democratic candidate for Merrimack County Sheriff —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/2/2020 4:59:29 PM

Ever since Scott Hilliard resigned as Merrimack County sheriff in February after facing a drunk driving charge and a push from Gov. Chris Sununu to go, the race to replace him has been wide open.

Five candidates, Democratic and Republican, have thrown in their hat to fill the post. Each of them has law enforcement experience. Here’s who they are. 

Republican Primary

Vying for the spot in the Republican primary are Dennis Crawford and James Valiquet.

Crawford is running on his experience in the Sheriff’s office, where he served for 35 years before retiring in 2007.  Crawford started out in the Warner police department in 1976, as a part time patrolman. Soon he moved onto the Merrimack Sheriff's office dispatch center, and from there his career took root.

Now, after rising to the ranks of Deputy Fist Class, Sergeant and Lieutenant, Crawford last served as the Merrimack County Sheriff’s office’s Operations Supervisor.

As sheriff, Crawford says he would modernize the office with technology, expand programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), and build trainings for the department to handle mental health issues and tackle diversity awareness.

A Warner resident since 1960, Crawford has stayed active in Warner community, as a baseball coach, an assistant Scoutmaster in the Cub Scouts, and a 4-H Leader in Merrimack, according to his campaign’s Facebook page.

Valiquet, meanwhile, is drawing on his time in local law enforcement to make his case for the post.

The Newbury resident has been a police chief since 1992 – serving as the chief in Newbury until 2005 and as a chief in Bradford since 2004, according to his website. He also is a lieutenant in the Bradford fire department as of 2020.

Valiquet is a former president of both the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and the Merrimack County Police Chief’s Association. He received a master’s degree from New England College in homeland security and emergency preparedness.

According to his website, Valiquet would push for body cameras for police departments across the county – not through taxpayer funds, but by assisting towns in applying for federal grants to secure the technology. Those cameras would help with safeguarding the “integrity of police actions and protecting communities from frivolous civil litigation,” he said.

He would also resuscitate the Merrimack County Chiefs of Police Association’s community meetings and work to build up a county-wide incident response system across police, fire and EMS departments for schools.

Valiquet is a certified SCUBA rescue diver, a firefighter, and a certified firearms instructor for the National Rifle Association and the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council.

He’s also been active in the State House in the past. In 2008, he advocated against a bill to increase the retirement age for state employees, and was one of the proponents that year of a return of the state pension system to its previous structure.

Democratic Primary

The Democratic primary is a touch more crowded, with David Croft, Keith Mitchell and Michael Labrecque pushing to get the post.

Croft, of Salisbury, is the director of the Merrimack County Adult Diversion Program, and the former police chief of the Boscawen Police Department.

A former Marine who served from 1977 to 1983, Croft later threw himself into law enforcement, according to his Facebook page. He started as a corrections officer at the Merrimack County jail, and then as a part-time police officer in Boscawen. In 1997, he became police chief of Boscawen; he retired in 2007.

Now, Croft works in the Alternative-to-Sentencing program, Merrimack County’s service to help rehabilitate adults in the correctional system rather than send them to jail.

Croft describes himself as a “natural fiscal conservative” who would prioritize spending tax money appropriately. As sheriff, he said he would focus on finding different ways to handle crimes committed by minors instead of convicting them, as well as assisting county police departments however was needed.

Mitchell is the Deputy Sheriff for Merrimack County and the former deputy chief of the Concord Police Department.

His 30-year career in Concord saw him at point hold the position of Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.

Mitchell says that he would step up the Sheriff office’s involvement n the county drug court as well as initiatives by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.

And he says he would focus on stronger leadership.

“Let there be no mistake, I am aware of the current challenges facing law enforcement,” he wrote in a questionnaire to Patch. “It is now more important than ever that effective law enforcement leaders possess the desire and ability to recognize deficiencies, make difficult choices and be prepared to make sometimes unpopular decisions to effect positive change.”

Lebreque, meanwhile, has been the chief of police in Canterbury since 2016. He served as a lieutenant in the Hooksett Police Department from 2004 to 2016, and previously in the town of Bow as a police officer and as a corrections officers for the state of New Hampshire.

Lebreque took over the Canterbury police department in 2016 after the former chief was charged and then acquitted of sexual assault. During that time, Lebreque worked with the Merrimack County Sheriff’s office, which had taken over Canterbury police operations, to transition the Canterbury department back to town control.

At the time, Lebreque was brought on board to turn around the department after years of “prolonged poor leadership” according to a review by the Sheriff’s office.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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