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Kerlikowske to be U.S. drug czar Led Buffalo police from 1994 to 1998

R. Gil Kerlikowske, the former Buffalo police commissioner credited with bringing the department into the computer age during his 4 1/2 years here, has accepted the position of the nation's drug czar in the Obama administration, according to reports.

Kerlikowske, 59, would serve as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a Cabinet-level position, if he receives Senate approval.

His rise to national prominence with a top-level law enforcement post represents the fulfillment of a longtime goal for the 36-year police veteran, whose first job as a police chief was at a small department in Florida. He is currently the police chief in Seattle.

Kerlikowske's office issued a statement late Wednesday saying he would have no comment on the appointment.

The Buffalo police force represented his first major law enforcement appointment.

"I thought he was one of the sharpest police administrators I've ever been around. He almost single-handedly took this department from using typewriters and carbon paper into the latest and greatest computer technology," said James P. Giammaresi, who served as Kerlikowske's captain of administrative planning.

Buffalo Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards praised Kerlikowske's strong administrative abilities and predicted he would do well in Washington.

"He'd be a great addition to the president's efforts on the war on drugs," Richards said. "Hopefully, he'll remember his years in Buffalo fondly and pay special attention to the needs of this community."

This will not be Kerlikowske's first job in the nation's capital. After leaving Buffalo in 1998, he worked as a deputy director in the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

In 2000, he was hired as the police chief of Seattle, where he was viewed as an intellectual cop in favor of a progressive approach to law enforcement, refusing to be heavy-handed.

While in Buffalo, it was not unusual for him to have college professors and social workers stop by his office in Police Headquarters to discuss different ways of reducing crime through intensive community policing.

Though criticized for frequent travel during his tenure here, he was credited with helping to bring $7 million in federal grants to the city for mobile computer terminals in patrol cars, other technology advances and hiring dozens of police officers with COPS funding.

Even the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association gave him high marks, despite clashes over Kerlikowske's efforts to introduce one-officer cars, which would not come until his successor, Rocco J. Diina, was appointed commissioner.

Kerlikowske also took a personal interest in citizen complaints and continued a process of closing down antiquated police stations and replacing them with modern facilities. He, in fact, restructured the department from 14 precincts to five districts.

And it was not unusual for Kerlikowske to show up at police crime scenes, with one vivid incident standing out when a West Side doctor shot and killed his mentally troubled son.

Kerlikowske was the first on the scene and disarmed the doctor, who had shot in self-defense. When he left Buffalo, crime was down by 38 percent.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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