Gil Kerlikowske: Obama's New Drug Czar

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Elaine Thompson / AP

Gil Kerlikowske has been selected as the Obama administration's Drug Czar.

President Obama's choice to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy — otherwise known as the country's "Drug Czar" — is Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. Having served in law enforcement for more than 30 years, Kerlikowske is known as an innovator and fierce defender of community policing principles that emphasize relationships with citizens over force. He's clashed with city councils over his leadership style, but he's also built a national reputation while working as a police chief all over the country. The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. (See the Top 10 Crime Stories of 2008)

Fast Facts:

• Raised in southern Florida by his mother and his stepfather, who was a judge. As a high school student, Kerlikowske worked as a crime scene photographer on the weekends.

• After being drafted into the Army in 1970 and being stationed in Washington, D.C. for two years — part of his job was to salute President Nixon as he boarded the presidential helicopter — Kerlikowske became a police officer in St. Petersburg, Fla. He ran two small police departments in Florida before being hired as chief of police in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1994.

• He's 59 and has been married twice. Has bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice that he earned while working as a police officer.

• Has worked as an undercover narcotics detective, an internal affairs investigator and a police hostage negotiator. In 1992, he told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, the two most important issues in law enforcement were race relations and excessive force.

• Lowered the crime rate, improved police relations with the community and introduced basic technological advancements in the police department in Buffalo along with instituting random drug testing of officers.

• Took a job as a community-policing administrator in 1998 under President Clinton in the Justice Department. He reportedly has a relationship with Eric Holder, the current Attorney General.

• Became Seattle's police chief in 2000 and brought the city's crime rate to a 40-year low. During the so-called "Mardi Gras Riots" in 2001, however, Kerlikowske ordered his officers to stand down while drunken partygoers committed assaults. In the end, one person was killed, many were injured and the incident was seen as a black mark on Kerlikowske's record.

• Is known for working as many as 70 hours per week. He took so little vacation time while running the Buffalo Police Department, he had a dispute with the city council upon leaving because they owed him so much compensation for the unused time.

• Was criticized for not taking more disciplinary action against officers in the Seattle Police Department charged with brutality and misconduct. A 2007 citizens review report said Kerlikowske's failure to discipline his officers was a "trend." The NAACP called for his resignation over his handling of police officer misconduct accusations.

• He has riled rank-and-file officers in Seattle as well. After he publicly punished a Seattle cop who was rude to a group of jaywalkers in 2002, prompting a vote of no confidence from the police union. The year before, the chief earned the union's ire for releasing the names of officers who faced disciplinary action.

• In 2003, a ballot measure in Seattle was proposed that would have directed the police department to consider marijuana possession (for personal use) a low priority. Kerlikowske opposed the ballot initiative, but said such arrests were already a low priority and that his department was focusing its drug arrests on cocaine and heroin traffickers.

• Left a 9-mm Glock semiautomatic handgun underneath the seat of his car while shopping with his wife Dec. 26, 2004. The gun was stolen out of his car and a spokesman for Kerlikowske said the chief was "chagrined."

• Was a staunch proponent of the use of Tasers as an alternative to lethal force. To demonstrate the safe use of Tasers, he agreed to be shot with one in front of police and reporters in 2004.

• Publicly disclosed in 2004 that he had been recruited to leave Seattle to run police departments in San Francisco and Boston.

Quotes By:

• "Academics used look at police like we were the white rats and they had the lab coats on ... But it's much better now. And for us, it's irresponsible not to seek the help when an entire city is trying to find some answers."
— On hiring a Northeastern University criminologist from Boston to help determine why a man killed seven people, including himself, in a 2006 killing spree in Seattle, New York Times, June 25, 2006

• "I think the important thing is that I can actually stand up and talk to you."
— After being shot with a Taser gun as part of a department demonstration, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 18, 2004

• "The ramifications are immense and doing this without a plan in place is very dangerous."
— Opposing a proposal to have police officers to fill out forms every time they pull a motorist over, intended to identify incidents of racial profiling. The lack of a system to analyze the data, Kerlikowske maintained, would make it is easy to manipulate it to be used against police. Seattle Times, June 15, 2002

• "Every police decision, especially in this particular situation, is that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't."
— After ordering police officers not to intervene in the 2001 Margi Gras riots, Seattle Times, March 2, 2001

Quotes About:

• "We hope the mayor and the City Council understand that it's not a few whining officers. It's a significant frustration of the vast majority of the department."
— A nine-year Seattle police department veteran, who requested anonymity, after a vote of no confidence in the chief affirmed by nearly 90% of Seattle's unionized police officers. Seattle Times, March 28, 2002

• "Wherever you find a police chief who is trying to make a difference, you'll find a union that holds a no-confidence vote. It comes with the territory."
— Chuck Wexler, an executive director of a law enforcement think tank of which Kerlikowske was once president, after the no confidence vote. Seattle Times, March 28, 2002

• "When he got here we were still using carbon paper ... He dragged us kicking and screaming out of the 19th century."
— Danny Williams, a lieutenant in the Buffalo Police department, on changes Kerlikowske instituted, Seattle Times, July 12, 2000

• "Oh God bless us ... What a blessing — the karma gods are smiling on the whole country, man."
— Joanna McKee, director of Green Cross Patient Co-Op, a medical marijuana advocacy group, Seattle Times, Feb. 12, 2009

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