Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President and Chief Kerlikowske on his Nomination as the New Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

March 11, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for being here -- a lot of familiar faces. Please sit down, I'm only the Vice President -- (laughter) -- but thank you. A lot of -- I see a lot of familiar faces with whom I've worked a long time in both the treatment community and the enforcement side of the ledger. And I'm delighted you're here, and I hope you're as delighted about what I'm about to announce as I am.

Today I'm pleased to announce that President Obama has nominated as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- our nation's drug czar -- Gil Kerlikowske, who is the Chief out in Seattle, and many of you in this room know him well.

Chief, the position you're nominated for, as you know, not only me, but a lot of people in this room fought to create back some years ago when we found out we had 32 agencies dealing with the drug problem and not a lot of coordination. And I should say -- note parenthetically, I've been a little disappointed the last eight years it hasn't gotten the attention that it should have gotten. But that's about to change.

I believe that we needed a drug czar, someone who could lead at a White House level, coordinating all our nation's drug policy, and I still believe that today.

Substance abuse is one of our nation's most pervasive problems, as all of you in this room know. An addiction is a disease -- as Pat Moynihan used to say, disease of the brain, that doesn't discriminate on the basis of age, gender, socioeconomic standing, or status, race, or creed. And as all of you know, it wreaks havoc on all of our communities: urban, rural and suburban.

And the correlation between crime and substance abuse was established undeniably clearly back in the '70s, as you know, Director. And it is something that if we could wave a wand and do anything to deal with violent crime in America, if you had said to eliminate drug abuse, you would eliminate a significant portion of the violent crime in America. So the correlation between violence and drugs is well established.

And all of this carries a very, very heavy price tag, both in terms of personal and emotional terms, and in terms of cost to the American taxpayer. Just the health and economic cost alone from drug and alcohol abuse amounts to over $350 billion a year -- just those costs, $350 billion a year; an even bigger cost in human suffering, the lives lost, the lost dreams that result from the pain and destruction that abuse brings to not only the abuser, but to the family and everyone surrounding, everyone who loves that person.

And there's no one more qualified to take on this job than the Chief. I've worked with him for years. He has 36 years of law enforcement experience. He's served as the highest ranking law enforcement officer in four of our cities in the United States of America. He's been Seattle's chief now for nearly nine years. I know when I called him the first time it was, like, he wasn't sure whether to take the call or not. (Laughter.)

But he is also president of the Major City Chiefs Association -- a group -- and many are represented here today -- a group made up of 56 of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States. And he's served as a Deputy Director of the COPS program at the United States Department of Justice -- one of the -- in my view -- I'm mildly prejudiced, having written the legislation -- but in my view one of the most effective crime prevention programs we've ever established in the nation's history.

And the chief has been on the front lines in the battle against drugs as well. He's been recognized as one of the most innovative minds in law enforcement and he's been called a "fierce defender of community policing principles." What I find most appealing about the Chief is that he says we can't operate in "silos" -- with barriers thrown up between the criminal justice system, the prevention and treatment community, and the recovery components of this problem. They can't be separated. He knows we need a comprehensive answer.

And that's exactly what the vision we had in mind when we first -- many of you in this room who helped -- when we first created that office. That was the idea from the outset.

We know we needed tough laws, and we have tough laws. But that wasn't enough. We needed a balanced approach in combating drugs -- one that included prevention, treatment and enforcement.

And that's why when I wrote what used to be called the Biden Crime Bill back in the '90s -- and quite frankly, many of you in this room literally sat and wrote that bill with me; it had my name on it, but you all wrote it -- when we wrote that back in 1994, I felt so strongly about the need to create specialized Drug Courts -- so we could have an alternative to incarceration and the traditional probation that included treatment and a way forward.

That's why I fought so hard for the Drug Free Communities Support Program, so we could bring together parents, teachers, business leaders, police, medical profession to prevent drug abuse and addiction in local communities.

And that's why I, along with many of you, worked so hard for the COPS program -- because quite frankly more cops on the street is one of the best ways to keep drugs off the street.

The challenges facing the Chief are going to be daunting. Nowhere is that more true than in the southwest border today. All you have to do is pick up your paper anywhere in the nation, national and local -- since the beginning of last year there have been nearly 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. If we had said that years ago we would have looked at each other like we were crazy -- but 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. Violent drug trafficking organizations are threatening both the United States and Mexican communities.

And as drug czar the Chief will play a central role in developing and implementing a southwest border strategy -- one that improves information sharing, harnesses the power of new technologies, strengthens federal, state and local law enforcement efforts against violent criminals, and increases the interdiction of both drugs coming into the United States and weapons and cash flowing out of the United States into Mexico. It's a strategy that we need to bring in order to bring the situation under control, to protect our people, and to bring about the demise of the Mexican drug cartels.

And by the way, we've done this before. We did it in Cartagena -- I mean, excuse me, not Cartagena, we did it in Colombia, in Medellin. We've done it before with the help. We've been involved in this. So I don't want people throwing up their hands and saying, there's nothing we can do about this. We can -- with a coordinated and consistent effort.

The other challenges are just as tough. We know about the nexus between drug abuse and crime -- and that poses the greatest need for help for those who are likely to enter the criminal justice system in the first place. That's why the drug courts I spoke about are so important -- as are prisoner reentry programs –- because these can serve as the light at the end of a tunnel, a very long, long, dark tunnel, for those who are stuck in the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration.

I know Chief Kelly understands that we -- every year, every day, when prisoners' times is up and we let them out, a significant portion walk out through that gate addicted to drugs -- as they walk out into the community, they're addicted to drugs.

We know we need to help keep kids away from drugs, as well, and that's obviously not easy. They're bombarded -- kids are bombarded with messages in the media that present inaccurate information and glamorize the use of drugs. It only -- that only makes the National Youth Drug-Anti Media [sic] campaign -- something that you, Chief, will now lead as part of your organization, and which I was -- believed needed to be created back in 1998 –- even more important.

We know the local solutions through local communities –- precisely the efforts we're looking for with the Drug Free Communities Act –- are the only way to build a kind of support system that can help keep kids off of drugs. This is one kid at a time. This is local. You cannot mandate from Washington or anywhere else a policy that's going to do that.

Chief, the challenges ahead of you are great. But the President and I have total confidence in your ability to handle them. Both the President and I believe that you will lead our nation's efforts against illegal drugs with unshakable resolve and exceptional skill, and the President is honored -- is honored to send your nomination to the United States Senate.

Once again, to all my friends out here, I thank you for being here. He's going to need all the help he can get. He's going to need the coordinative capacity that exists in this room. I thank you for being here today and for your timeless -- your timeless commitment -- and I'm including the prevention community that's sitting out here, and the treatment community that's sitting out here. And on behalf of the President and I, to all of you, we thank you.

So please join me in joining the Chief who's going to be our new drug czar, a man you all know well and a man I'm confident is going to be tapping all of you for help. Chief, the floor is yours. Congratulations. (Applause.)

CHIEF KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I want to thank the Vice President for his commitment for combating drugs. You know, it's a great honor for me to stand on the stage with a man who fought to create the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He's recognized for a long time the need for this coordinated comprehensive national drug strategy. I am looking forward to working with you and this administration.

I want to thank the President for this opportunity to serve the country. And I applaud his recognition that the perspectives of those that are closest to the ground, those on the front lines of the fight against drugs -- those are state and local law enforcement officers and service and treatment providers. It's critically important that their viewpoints be taken in.

I'm pleased that many of my colleagues, many of my friends, are here: Commissioner Ray Kelly from the New York City Police Department, a staunch leader in this effort; Chief Bill Bratton from the Los Angeles Police Department; Chief Cathy Lanier from right here in Washington, D.C.; Tom Manger, the Chief of the Montgomery County Police Department. And then others -- David Kass, who's the president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an association that I have been pleased to work on for many years; and Al Lenhardt, who is the head of the National Crime Prevention Council; and Amy Singer, who's the director of Program Planning for Phoenix House. These are the men and women across the country who have dedicated their lives to reducing drug trafficking and use, and of course so many others here today.

I'm heartened to see all of the young people also. I'm delighted to see all of the young people. (Applause.) These are the young leaders, these are the people that are working hard to raise the awareness among their peers about the dangers of drugs.

The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them. And that starts with our youth. Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering, and as a police officer but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities.

I know we need to do a much better job in reducing and eliminating these problems. And tackling our nation's complex drug problem takes a coordinated and multifaceted effort. There's a lot of hard work ahead, but I am absolutely committed to this task, Mr. Vice President.

For too long, we have operated, as the Vice President said, in silence when it comes to making our country drug free and reducing the demand for drugs. It's an incredibly complex problem, and it requires prosecutors and law enforcement, courts, treatment providers, and prevention programs to exchange information and to work together. And our priority should be a seamless, comprehensive approach.

The President and the Vice President have set a new course, and I'm looking forward to working with the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services and all of the agencies that are involved in drug policy on implementing this new course.

Already this administration has expanded commitments to critical programs, ones that we've seen such as drug courts, better treatment, prisoner and reentry programs, border security, and counternarcotics initiatives, both domestically and internationally. This is a real commitment to strengthening the tools we have to reduce trafficking, illegal drug manufacturing, and drug-related crime and violence.

There is much work to be done. I'm looking forward to getting to work. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President and Chief Kerlikowske on his Nomination as the New Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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