Former Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate to become head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position commonly known as "drug czar."

Former Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate to become head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position commonly known as “drug czar.”

Kerlikowske’s official last day as police chief was last Friday. Seattle deputy Chief John Diaz has been named the city’s interim chief and said he will seek the job.

Kerlikowske, 59, led the Seattle Police Department for more than eight years.

The Senate approved Kerlikowske’s nomination 91-1.

Kerlikowske, a 36-year law enforcement veteran, has said he will take a balanced, science-based approach to the job of director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Kerlikowske has pledged to develop a strategy to address drug-related violence along the Mexican border. While he and other officials would work to reduce the international drug supply, the biggest contribution the United States can make is to reduce demand for illicit drugs, Kerlikowske said.

Kerlikowske’s confirmation comes at a crucial time. In addition to the problems posed by Mexican drug cartels, the war in Afghanistan is complicated by the illegal drug trade there

President Barack Obama’s choice of Kerlikowske and an increased emphasis on alternative drug courts signal a sharp departure from Bush-administration policies on cutting the foreign supply and curbing U.S. drug use.

Appearing before a Senate committee last month, Kerlikowske said that as national drug czar, he would take a balanced, science-based approach to the job. He also told the Senate Judiciary Committee he would help develop a strategy addressing drug-related violence along the Mexican border.

Kerlikowske, who was appointed Seattle chief in 2000 by then-Mayor Paul Schell, had worked the previous two years as deputy director of the Justice Department’s community-oriented policing division during the Clinton administration.

Kerlikowske began his career as a street cop in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1972 and went on to serve as chief in two Florida cities, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie.

He led the Buffalo, N.Y., department in the 1990s, and left there for the deputy-director position in the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

In Seattle, Kerlikowske won credit for stabilizing the Police Department after the stormy departure of Norm Stamper as chief in the wake of the 1999 World Trade Organization riots, as well as the department’s initial failure to unearth a detective’s alleged theft of money at a crime scene.

Crime rates dipped during his time as chief, reaching historic lows in recent years.

But his tenure has at times been rocky, marked by controversy over allegations that he was too soft when it came to disciplining officers in misconduct cases.

Along with Kerlikowske, the Obama administration has tapped King County Executive Ron Sims for deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Gov. Gary Locke for Commerce secretary.

Information from Times archives is included in this report.