As protests against police brutality and racism continue across the nation, police reform has become a top issue in this year’s election. Former Albuquerque police officer Debbie Kuidis spoke with KUNM about the changes to policing she wants to see politicians affect, and why she’s paying attention to races from the national to the local level.
“I'm Debbie Kuidis. I'm a retired deputy chief from the Albuquerque Police Department, and a former commander with the University of New Mexico Police Department. We are at the peaceful and beautiful duck pond at the University of New Mexico, and I chose this place because this is where my old eyes developed a new vision of policing.
I retired from the Albuquerque Police Department over 20 years ago. I took a four-year break and then I came to UNM police, and I immediately knew that I was going to have a bigger impact on people as a police officer here. I saw young people, I could spend time with them here, learning about their life, their troubles. They could learn there was a human behind the badge. And that's how you develop trust. Unfortunately, the Albuquerque Police Department doesn't have those luxuries. They go to a call, and they can hear on the radio calls stacking up; they feel rushed, they're not able to take the time that they need to really manage that call meaningfully. The police and public have to care, trust and respect each other to make it a safer world for everybody. And you can see it's not happening. If there's fear on both sides of the badge, it's not going to end well. We need to change our terminology: the 'war on crime,' the 'war on drugs.' We are not at war with anybody. They are dressing like they are, driving up in tanks like they are, but we're not at war with our community and that mentality needs to stop.
When we speak of racial injustice, and what I'm seeing in Albuquerque and throughout the nation, it's hard for me to watch. It makes me sad. It makes me sick to my stomach. And I'm not seeing the reform that we need yet. I don't think politicians can create laws to develop trust between police and the community. They could do police reform, they can say 'no more chokeholds unless you are dying and that is your last resort.' So, they can make certain things illegal, but the trust issue has got to be worked on every minute by the police and the community, at every contact.
I wish politicians would work with each other to work on these reforms. And we don't see that. I mean, we saw the house do it, and we saw it stopped at the Senate. That's why people keep protesting. They don't see anything changing.
The issues at the top of my mind as we approach election this year - my number one is, day one I want those kids out of the cages. We have no idea what their life is like and how they're going to come out of this. It's not going to be good. And guess who has to deal with it when they come out? The police. And we're not ready for that.
I have from top to bottom in mind when I vote. I don't just look at the president, I look at our state legislatures, state senators, because they make important decisions as well. So, you're not just voting for one person. As we can see, this vote was not only for a president, but for three Supreme Court seats.
I have never missed a vote. I even vote in school elections. Voting is important, and to miss that opportunity is unconscionable, really, to me. I have contacted people that I know never voted before. I am taking some of them with me, but they fought it! They're like, 'what's the difference? My vote doesn't make a difference.' But I'm picking them up and, you know, I haven't told them who to vote for, I'm just trying to make them see how important voting is.”