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Gil Kerlikowske
Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Assumed office
March 7, 2014
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Thomas Winkowski (Acting)
Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

In office
May 7, 2009 – March 7, 2014
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Edward Jurith (Acting)
Succeeded by Michael Botticelli
Personal details
Born November 23, 1949(1949-11-23) (age 73)
Fort Myers, Florida, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anna Lazlo
Alma mater University of South Florida, Tampa

Richard Gil Kerlikowske (born November 23, 1949) is the current Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He assumed office on March 6, 2014. He also served as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy between 2009 and 2014.

Kerlikowske graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa and the Executive Institute at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy. He has served as Chief of Police in four cities and worked in the United States Justice Department. His longest term as a Chief of Police was between July 2001 and March 2009 in Seattle, Washington. He faced scrutiny in Seattle for the department's tactics during civil unrest.

Early life and education

Kerlikowske was raised in Florida by his mother and stepfather.[1]

Kerlikowske graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1968.[2] He holds a B.A. and M.A. in criminal justice from the University of South Florida in Tampa. The school also gave him an honorary doctorate.[3] He is a graduate of the National Executive Institute at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Academy in Quantico, Virginia.


Kerlikowske was drafted into the Army in 1970, and was stationed in Washington, D.C.. Part of his responsibility was saluting then-President Richard Nixon as he boarded the presidential helicopter[1] and was awarded the Presidential Service Badge.[3] He began his law enforcement career in 1972 as a police officer for the St. Petersburg Police in Florida. He served as Chief of Police in Fort Pierce, Florida and Port St. Lucie, Florida. He later served as police commissioner for Buffalo, New York for about a year and a half.

He served as a member of the United States Justice Department, where he oversaw community policing grants. His work in Washington D.C. earned praise from then-Attorney General Janet Reno and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.[4]

Seattle Police Department

Kerlikowske joined the Seattle Police Department in 2000. Mayor Paul Schell chose him as Seattle's new police chief in July 2001.

Kerlikowske oversaw the demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the controversial WTO conference in Seattle which had caused his predecessor, Norm Stamper, to resign. Although the event was peaceful throughout the day, 140 were arrested after police issued orders to disperse in the evening.[5] Some of those arrested were prominent labor leaders attempting to move the event to the Labor Temple and others who were caught in the arrest zone while leaving work. Some charges were later dismissed. The police department was later criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union for the handling of protests against the Iraq War and previous demonstrations in a 2003 letter to the mayor and Kerlikowske.[6]

Kerlikowske faced criticism over the department's slow response to the 2001 Seattle Mardi Gras Riots that left one man dead and 70 people with injuries. During the incident, he ordered the police at the scene not to intervene, instead maintaining a perimeter around the violence. The City of Seattle acknowledged police strategy presented a public safety threat, and settled with the murder victim's family for just under $2 million. The next month, The Seattle Police Officers' Guild voted no confidence in the chief, citing both the Mardi Gras riot and his public reprimand of an officer for being rude to a group of alleged jaywalkers.[7]

In 2003, a ballot measure passed in Seattle that directs the police department to consider marijuana possession (for adult personal use) the City's lowest law enforcement priority. Kerlikowske opposed the ballot initiative, but said such arrests were already a low priority.

2003 was the first time in 15 years that Seattle did not have any shooting deaths involving officers. Kerlikowske said Tasers and other less-lethal tools were partly responsible.[8] In September 2004, the local NAACP president asked to be Tased to better understand the complaints his organization had received. Kerlikowske joined him in a public demonstration in which they were both shocked at the same time.[9][10]

In 2005, Kerlikowske faced embarrassment after having his duty handgun stolen from his locked car, which was parked on a public street.[11]

In March 2007, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Minority Executive Directors Coalition called for his resignation. Seattle had just settled a lawsuit filed by a suspect who alleged that the police had used excessive force in a 2005 arrest. The department’s Office of Professional Accountability(OPA) recommended discipline for the three officers involved but action was not taken.[12] The call for his resignation was also due to criticism of his alleged intervention in the internal investigation of two officers accused of violating the civil rights of a drug dealer during an arrest in January. The suspect claimed the officers roughed him up which was supported by video footage of the incident. The OPA Review Board accused him of taking extraordinary measures to protect the officers. The complaint was referred to the FBI, U.S. Attorney's district office, and Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.[13]

Director of the ONDCP

Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske speaks with staff and patients at the Covenant House, which helps drug-addicted teenagers and adults.

On February 11, 2009, it was reported that Kerlikowske had accepted an offer by President Barack Obama to become Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, succeeding John P. Walters.[14] The Drug Policy Alliance issued a statement after the announcement of his nomination saying: "We're cautiously optimistic that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will support Obama's drug policy reform agenda".[15] He assumed the office on May 7, 2009.[16]

On May 13, 2009, Kerlikowske signaled that the Obama Administration would no longer use the term "War on Drugs", as it is counter-productive. The Obama Administration would instead demonstrate a favoring of treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce drug use.[17]

In a May 22, 2009 interview on KUOW radio, he said any drug 'legalization' would be "waving the white flag" and that "legalization is off the charts when it comes to discussion, from my viewpoint" and that "legalization vocabulary doesn't exist for me and it was made clear that it doesn't exist in President Obama's vocabulary." Specifically about marijuana, he said, "It's a dangerous drug" and about the medical use of marijuana, he said, "we will wait for evidence on whether smoked marijuana has any medicinal benefits – those aren't in."[18]

In October 2010 he said the federal government would sue the state of California if it legalized marijuana in Proposition 19.[19]

On November 2, 2010, the state of California voted on Proposition 19, which entailed legalizing marijuana for personal uses, growing or cultivating it, as well as sale and taxation of it. The Proposition lost by 500,000 votes out of the near 7 million votes cast. "Californians recognized that legalizing marijuana will not make our citizens healthier, solve California's budget crisis or reduce drug related violence in Mexico," said Gil Kerlikowske.[20]

In a December 9, 2010 interview with The Nation magazine, Kerlikowske called Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign one of the "major successes" of the War on Drugs.[21][22]

On June 6, 2011, Kerlikowske published his report "Drug policies must be rooted in science," in response to a report calling for the decriminalization of illicit drugs by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. In the report, he denies the Commission's assertions that the War on Drugs is failing and costing billions of the taxpayers' dollars. The report claims that the economic impact of illicit drug use is $80 billion for health care and productivity.[23]

Commissioner of CBP

On August 1, 2013, President Obama nominated him to serve as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. On March 6, 2014, the U.S. Senate confirmed as the first permanent commissioner for the agency that oversees both customs and immigration officers at the country’s ports of entry and the Border Patrol since before Obama took office in 2009.[24]

See also

  • List of U.S. executive branch czars


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pickert, Kate (2009-02-13). "Gil Kerlikowske: Obama's New Drug Czar?". Time. Time Inc.,8599,1879306,00.html. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  2. Bashi, Mae (February 18, 2011). "US drug czar holds roundtable". Ft. Myers News-Press. Retrieved 19 February 2011. [dead link]
  3. 3.0 3.1 "R. Gil Kerlikowske". ONDCP. Retrieved 23 June 2011. [dead link]
  4. McNerthney, Casey (2009-02-10). "Background on Kerlikowske, other Seattle police chiefs". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  5. Waligore, Mark A. (2000-12-01). "Late skirmish mars peaceful WTO II; 140 arrested". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  6. [1][dead link]
  7. "Seattle Police Guild Votes No Confidence in Chief". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  8. Police are too quick to grab for Taser's power, say critics. (2007-09-27). Retrieved on 2010-12-22.
  9. "Seattle Shocker". CBS News. 2004-09-20. 
  10. Jessica Blanchard (September 20, 2004). "Police chief, NAACP president step up to demonstrate Tasers". The Seattle Times. 
  11. "Weapon is stolen from police chief's car". The Seattle Times. 2005-01-04. 
  12. Carter, Mike; Clarridge, Christine (2007-06-26). "Police chief exonerated officers in violent arrest". The Seattle Times. 
  13. Sullivan, Jennifer (2007-06-22). "Seattle NAACP branch continues push for resignations of Kerlikowske, two officers". The Seattle Times. 
  14. Miletich, Steve; Carter, Mike (2009-02-11). "Seattle police chief to become nation's drug czar". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  15. Whatley, Stuart (2009-02-11). "Gil Kerlikowske: Obama's Drug Czar". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  16. "Senate confirms new drug czar". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  17. White House Czar Calls for End to 'War on Drugs' Accessed May 14, 2009
  18. White House Czar Not Open to Legalization Accessed May 22, 2009
  19. "If Marijuana is Legalized, the Federal Government May Sue California". LAist. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  20. California marijuana legalization goes up in smoke. Reuters. Retrieved on 2010-12-22.
  21. Abramski, Sasha (2010-12-09) Questions for the Drug Czar, The Nation
  22. Sullum, Jacob (2010-12-21) ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske's Model for Enlightened Drug Policy: Nancy Reagan, Reason
  23. Kerlikowske, Gil (2011-06-06) Drug polices must be rooted in science, The Hill
  24. "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts (White House Press Release-August 1, 2013)". The White House. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Jurith
Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
Succeeded by
Michael Botticelli
Preceded by
Thomas Winkowski
Commissioner U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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