One-on-One with…ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske

Recently, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference and Exposition held in Denver, Colorado. His remarks were focused on the National Drug Control Strategy, law enforcement’s vital role in combating illegal drug use and production, and partnerships on the local, state, and federal levels. Kerlikowske talked about this and more with Dispatch Associate Editor Amy Schapiro.

CP Dispatch: You recently addressed the nation’s police chiefs, what was the primary message you communicated to them?

Director Kerlikowske: It is time to look at the drug problem in a much more balanced way. For too long we have looked at drugs as a criminal justice or public safety problem. Instead, we need to recognize that it is a complex and dynamic public health challenge. Police chiefs need to show leadership on this issue and collaborate with treatment providers. We need to approach the drug problem as a disease, not as a crime problem.

CP Dispatch: How can local law enforcement agencies best aid the fight against drugs and drug- related violence?

Director Kerlikowske: By bringing other people to the table in a much more upfront way. For example, treatment has been shunted to the side, but it works. So does prevention. We have to be smarter about drug use and addiction within the criminal justice system by making treatment available to the incarcerated. Law enforcement, prosecutors, corrections, and drug treatment specialists need to work together to make this happen. One of the biggest opportunities this Administration is seizing on is collaborating with state and local agencies and trying to ensure that we collaborate with each other to implement an effective response to the drug problem.

CP Dispatch: As you travel throughout the country, what types of programs have you seen that work?

Director Kerlikowske: Treatment works. It is a myth that meth treatment does not work and that once an individual is hooked he/she cannot be cured. That is not true. I have met dozens of meth addicts that are back with their families, working, and doing quite well. We now know that recovery rates for meth users who enter treatment are similar to those for users of other drugs. Another success is drug courts. They really have proven themselves. I visited a number of them and can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with what I’ve seen. There are 2,300 drug courts and they are widely supported. The Obama Administration has recognized the importance of drug courts, problem- solving courts, prisoner reentry programs, and the Second Chance Act—which emphasizes rehabilitation rather than parole. As a result, the President has requested millions of dollars in the FY 2010 budget to ensure that these promising practices receive the resources they need.

CP Dispatch: As you know, partnerships are a key tenet of community policing. What role do partnerships play in the implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy?

Director Kerlikowske: The whole purpose of ONDCP was to be a small policy shop to assist federal primary agencies with drug control as a mission. Outreach to state and locals was pretty minimal. When you think about how much money is spent at the federal level fighting drug use, addiction, crime, and violence, and then you realize there is a huge amount being spent at the state and local level, you recognize the need to streamline as much as possible. ONDCP coordinates 15 different federal agencies that are key stakeholders in drug control including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense.

Every year, by law, ONDCP produces the National Drug Control Strategy, but too many have not taken the time to read it or familiarize themselves with the strategy, so we are now doing outreach. In developing this year’s strategy, we have sought input from groups such as IACP, USCM, PERF, and NDAA because we think the voice of state and locals should be reflected in the strategy we develop. The Strategy has been more reminiscent of an annual report and we want it to have more meaning at the local level. We are hoping the new strategy will have meaning not only in the United States, but globally. I have been to Mexico twice as well as Colombia. And the Russians have asked the United States for a bilateral drug working group, chaired by the Russian Drug Czar and myself. The addict population is growing around the world. Europe, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Colombia, West Africa, and Russia all have increasing drug problems because the drug traffickers have been paying with drugs rather than money so they are now infecting more populations as the drug trade continues to spread globally. Other goals we have for the new National Drug Control Strategy is to make it more user-friendly and to incorporate a set of metrics to better measure the drug problem. We expect the National Drug Control Strategy to be available in February.

CP Dispatch: At IACP you announced the launching of an ONDCP law enforcement fellowship program. Can you tell me more about that?

Director Kerlikowske: We plan to establish a fellowship program similar to what the National Institute of Justice has implemented. We want to bring in experienced law enforcement professionals fresh from the field for 6-month fellowships. We have been very lucky because we currently have people from a variety of federal agencies on loan to us including a DEA supervisor, nine military detailees, and a representative from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These detailees represent federal organizations, and we want to expand that concept by bringing in local, state, and tribal law enforcement officers to work with us at ONDCP. For those interested in learning more about the fellowship opportunity, information will be available on our website:


R. Gil Kerlikowske was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was sworn in on May 7, 2009, as the nation's sixth “drug czar.” In his position, Kerlikowske coordinates all aspects of federal drug control programs and implementation of the President's National Drug Control Strategy. Kerlikowske brings 37 years of law enforcement and drug policy experience to the position, including 9 years as the Chief of Police for Seattle, Washington. When he left, crime was at its lowest point in 40 years. Previously, he was Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Kerlikowske was also Police Commissioner of Buffalo, New York. The majority of his law enforcement career was in Florida where he served in the St. Petersburg Police Department and later as Chief of Police in Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce. Kerlikowske holds a B.A. and M.A. in criminal justice from the University of South Florida in Tampa, and is a graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute in Quantico, Virginia.