WEST WARWICK — Having risen through the ranks of the West Warwick Police Department, Ernest Lavigne has officially made it to the top.
During a meeting held virtually Tuesday night, the West Warwick Town Council voted unanimously to appoint Lavigne as the town’s police chief, a role most recently held by Mark Knott.
Lavigne, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice studies, has been serving as the town’s interim chief since Knott was named interim town manager following Ernest Zmyslinski’s resignation last October.
Town Council President David Gosselin spoke highly of the new chief during Tuesday's meeting, suggesting that Lavigne’s time serving in the interim capacity “was his interview.”
“I think he earned this position, and I’m hoping he’ll serve us well over the next 10 years,” Gosselin said, adding that “even during disagreements” Lavigne has always demonstrated professionalism.
Recommended for the position by Knott, who was appointed permanently to the town manager role last month, Lavigne has “served honorably in all divisions and units” of the West Warwick Police Department, Knott said.
Knott added that he was in full support of promoting Lavigne to the rank of colonel.
“It’s been a privilege to serve alongside Maj. Lavigne for the past 27 years,” Knott said Tuesday, “and I firmly believe that he’s the right choice to be my successor.”
The strong professional relationship that Knott has built with Lavigne will be beneficial to the town, he said. Knott applauded his colleague’s ability to balance “respectfully leading people and managing an organization,” having served in supervisor, administrator and union leadership roles.
“Although these functions sometimes appear to be in conflict, Maj. Lavigne treats everyone with dignity and respect, listens to the involved people, and contemplates the outcomes before making the best decision based on safety, wellbeing and the good of the organization,” Knott said.
A resident of Coventry, Lavigne holds strong family values, as a “dedicated husband and father” to two children, Knott continued.
“He’s respected by his peers, both internally and within the state,” Knott said of Lavigne, adding that he “look[s] forward to working with him and his team in providing exceptional public safety service to our citizens and visitors.”
Council Vice President Maribeth Williamson also spoke in favor of naming Lavigne as the new chief of police.
“I think he helps to solidify a team that’s in place that is actually very strong at this point in time, and I look forward to him taking on the role,” she said.
Councilor Jason Licciardi added that, as soon as the position came up for grabs, Lavigne “was [his] guy.”
“The dealings that you’ve had with the council, and the communication, is excellent,” Licciardi said. “That’s what we’re looking for from more department heads, is this type of communication.”
Councilor Jason Messier echoed those sentiments, calling Lavigne’s appointment “an easy decision” and adding that he’s done an incredible job serving as interim police chief.
And while he hasn’t had much contact with Lavigne, having only been elected to the Ward 5 council seat this month, councilor Mark Bourget said he’s always appreciated Lavigne’s professionalism.
“I also know your reputation around the state,” he said, “and to me that is very important in this decision, as well.”
Gosselin added Tuesday that he was happy to hire someone from within the police department for the chief position, rather than searching outside for someone to fill the role.
Hiring from within boosts morale, Gosselin said, and gives employees a good reason to stick around.
He added that it made sense not to advertise the position, since the department already had someone so well qualified to fill the role. It saved the town time and money, as well, he said.
Lavigne took a moment Tuesday to thank the council and Knott for trusting him, as well as his family for their support. He also thanked members of the police department “for the tremendous work that they do each and every day, especially during this most difficult last year and a half.”
“Thank you very much,” he said, “I really appreciate this opportunity.”