WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration plans Wednesday to nominate Seattle, Washington, police chief Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's drug czar.
Vice President Joe Biden was expected to name Kerlikowske as chief of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a job that requires Senate confirmation, at a midday ceremony, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.
Kerlikowske had been widely expected to be named to the position, after his name was leaked in early February. The administration official said the delay in announcing his appointment was not linked to disclosures that his stepson, Jeffrey, had an arrest record on drug charges.
He takes over for John Walters, who held the job under former President George W. Bush.
The administration official said that Biden was making the announcement given the "breadth of knowledge" he has on U.S. drug policy.
"The vice president will work closely with the director-designate to oversee both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts," the official said.
The agency will no longer have Cabinet-level status, but the official said that Kerlikowske "will have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made ... and full access and a direct line to the president and vice president."
Kerlikowske served a stint during the Clinton administration as deputy director in the Justice Department's COPS program, which promotes community policing. He has also held top police positions in Florida and Buffalo, N.Y.
Kerlikowske is viewed as a workmanlike, circumspect choice who has street perspective and the policy smarts to navigate the bureaucracy. As president of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, he is known as a progressive and a proponent of community oriented policing.
Colleagues expect him to ramp up efforts to stem demand for illegal narcotics by emphasizing prevention and treatment.
"I would expect Gil to say there's absolutely a role that enforcement plays, but what other things do we need to do at the community and the state and federal level on prevention and intervention in order to be successful," San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis, a friend of Kerlikowske's and vice president of the Major Cities Police Chiefs, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "If all we do is arrest people for drugs, we're missing the opportunity to get involved in the beginning and take people out of drugs. Gil gets that concept."
In the Clinton administration he worked on ways to monitor grants that the agency gave to local police efforts, and he frequently emphasized analysis and data, looking for "ways to prevent crime rather than reacting to it," said Tim Quinn, COPS acting director.
John Carnevale, an official in the drug office from its inception in 1989 until 2000, met Kerlikowske while working on ways to measure the agency's effectiveness. "He's big on accountability," said Carnevale. Kerlikowske's Washington and local policing background is a plus, particularly if other appointees bring a strong treatment and prevention background, he said.
Seattle activists who work on drug-reform issues called Kerlikowske smart and reasonable, and noted that his police department has largely abided by a voter-approved initiative that made marijuana possession the city's lowest law-enforcement priority.
Even at the city's annual Hempfest protest and festival, police arrest only a few people despite the open-air pot smoking, said Vivian McPeak, director of the event.
Douglas Hiatt, an attorney who defends medical marijuana patients, said the chief has tried "to do the right thing on medical marijuana. He's trying to get it across to his officers not to hassle patients."
Kerlikowske told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in December that if he went into the Obama administration, "At my age, at this point in my career, I'd want something where you feel like you could make a real impact."
March 11, 2009 -- Washington Post (DC)
Seattle Police Chief to Be Named Drug Czar
Disclosure About Family Member's Substance-Abuse Struggles Had Posed Hurdles
By Chris Cillizza, Washington Post Staff Writer
President Obama will name Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's drug czar today, ending a long search that was slowed as details of drug arrests involving Kerlikowske's son came to light.
The administration will remove the job's Cabinet designation -- reversing an elevation of the office under President George W. Bush -- although one senior official said that Kerlikowske would have "full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president." The source also noted that Vice President Biden was instrumental in the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and would continue to be an outspoken advocate on the issue.
Kerlikowske has long been speculated to be the front-runner to serve as the drug czar. But revelations concerning the arrests of his son, Jeffrey, on drug-related charges complicated the process.
The White House acknowledged Jeffrey Kerlikowske's past drug use but offered no specifics or comment.
In his remarks today accepting the nomination, Kerlikowske is expected to reference his family struggles with drug abuse. "Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering," according to his prepared remarks. "As a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced first-hand the devastating effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities."
In formally nominating Kerlikowske, Obama -- who admitted using cocaine as a teenager in his memoir "Dreams From My Father" -- offers a vote of confidence for a man who could face uncomfortable questions during his confirmation process. The position requires confirmation by the Senate.
Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton praised the pick, saying, "As a City Police Chief, Gil sees every day the violence and tragedy that results from drug abuse in this country and will require no 'on-the-job training.' "
Historically, the White House's broad drug-control strategy has revolved around prevention, helping drug users and disrupting the market for illegal drugs. During the campaign, Obama supported prevention efforts as a way to combat not only drug abuse but also unemployment and crime.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have met in recent weeks with Mexican authorities to discuss the flow of drugs and violence across the border.
During the Bush years, the number of high-schoolers using drugs declined by more than 900,000, according to a January report issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. A separate national survey on drug use and health concluded, however, that nearly 7 million people in the United States show some signs of drug use or dependence, most often involving marijuana.
Kerlikowske served as police chief in two Florida cities, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie, before becoming police commissioner in Buffalo in 1994. He left that job after 4 1/2 years to work in the Clinton Justice Department as the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. During that time, he became close with Holder.
In his most recent stint, in Seattle, Kerlikowske drew national media attention in 2004 when, seeking to demonstrate the efficacy of the Taser stun gun, he allowed himself to be zapped with 50,000 volts of electricity in front of reporters and television cameras. He commanded less favorable media attention in 2001 when his department was criticized for its lack of aggressiveness in dealing with Mardi Gras riots that left one man dead and 70 injured.
In 2004, Kerlikowske's personal gun was stolen after he left it under the seat of his unmarked police car.
He currently serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.
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