Following your gut: Officer's hunch saves kidnapping victim

Officer Ally Jacobs 'went from zero to hero overnight' for taking action when she knew something wasn't right


In November of 2010 I was privileged to speak at the California Women Leaders in Law Enforcement conference in Pasadena. It was a huge, enthusiastic group and I had an outstanding experience.  After my closing keynote address, a woman came up to me and said excitedly “I just texted my friend and told her she was in your presentation!” 

She was talking about Officer Ally Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Police Department, who I often speak about as an outstanding example of a female cop who followed her intuition when it was needed the most.  I gave her friend my business card.

Later that day I was at the airport running for my flight home and my cell phone rang.  “Hey Sarge, this is Officer Ally Jacobs.”  We chatted for a few minutes about the conference, my presentation “Career and Tactical Survival for Women” and life in general.  We promised to keep in touch and said goodbye. As I boarded the plane, I thought to myself “there’s a woman who doesn’t wait for things to happen, she makes them happen.”

Ally famously “made things happen” in August of 2009 when she was sitting in a meeting with her UC Berkeley colleague Lisa Campbell in the Special Events Office.  Lisa, a cop-turned-civilian, told Ally she had an appointment with a really “weird” guy and wanted Ally to sit in on the meeting.  The man, Phillip Garrido, wanted to hold a religious event on campus.  Ally immediately ran a check on Garrido and found out that he was a sex offender on parole for rape. 

“If I’m going to be sitting in a room with somebody, I’m going to run them,” she told me.  She printed his lengthy rap sheet and waited.  

Garrido came to the meeting wearing a cast-off, ill-fitting suit and introduced two young girls with him, 11 and 15, as his daughters. In contrast to Garrido’s intolerable hygiene, the girls were clean and obviously well kept, although terribly pale.  Ally, also a mother of two, began chatting with the girls while Campbell kept Garrido distracted. 

The girls talked about their mom, their sister, their pets and their homeschooling.  They were polite, but their demeanor was somewhat robotic, and the youngest seemed especially socially stunted.  Ally also thumbed through the booklet Garrido had brought with him, which contained a business card from Antioch, Calif., an area nearly an hour from the UC Berkeley campus.  Her gut told her that something wasn’t right, and her police experience told her that Garrido was probably mentally ill, off his meds and using drugs. As soon as the meeting ended, Ally called Parole and left a message.  She feared for those little girls.

Garrido’s parole officer called her back and told her that Garrido didn’t have children.  Ally said that the girls had definitely looked like Garrido, so the parole officer made contact with Garrido at his home but at that time did not address the various violations, including being out of his restricted area and in the company of minors. However, on August 26th, Garrido was told to bring his family to the parole office in Concord, which he did.  Garrido’s “family” included the two girls, his wife Nancy, “Alyssa Franzen,” 29, who was eventually identified as kidnapping victim Jaycee Lee Dugard. 

Kidnapped at age 11 by Phil and Nancy, Jaycee had given birth to Garrido’s daughters — the first when Jaycee was only 14 years old.  She was given no medical care or assistance and had her second daughter three years later.  The rest of Jaycee’s story unfolded slowly, but it was clear that her 18-year nightmare was coming to an end.  And for Ally Jacobs, life would also never be the same.

Ally first learned of these stunning developments when the parole officer called her cell phone as she was on her way home from work.  She was filled in on the investigation but was told “this is an FBI case, you can’t tell your department anything.”  She complied, and the next day, her day off, she got a phone call from work telling her to get to the station now.  There were hundreds of news vans and reporters in front of the campus police department, and only Lisa Campbell had an inkling of why they were there.

“I went from zero to hero overnight,” Ally told me.  She gave that first press conference with virtually no warning, and then all of a sudden everyone from Diane Sawyer to Oprah wanted to interview Lisa and her.  The press staked out her house, people stalked her; it was a very surreal time.  Nothing prepared her for the incredible invasion of her privacy. 

“This is when critical incident counseling would have first come in handy.” Ally said.  She felt as though no one “had her back,” that she was on her own in so many ways. But she continued to move forward, receiving international attention and accolades while dealing with internal issues at her police department. 

She was “written up” for her initial failure to notify the department — even though she had authored a police report that was signed off by the sergeant before going home that first night — and received a written reprimand, which she took in stride.  She also received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition, a Key to the City of Brentwood (she’ the second person ever to receive that honor), a Certificate of Senate Recognition, various meritorious service awards, the IAWP Excellence in Performance award, a Medal of Distinction from the California Peace Officers Association and so many more. 

She was interviewed by everyone from Lisa Ling to Anderson Cooper, and yes, she traveled with her kids and her mom to Harpo Studios in Chicago to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show.  Her agency did not allow Lisa and her to travel to most of these interviews, so they were primarily done via satellite. While many of her co-workers were very supportive, one supervisor groused that he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. 

“All you did was make an f-ing phone call,” he told her with contempt.

As the aftermath progressed, Ally became friends with Duggard’s FBI handler Special Agent Chris Campion, and Chris eventually facilitated a phone conversation between Jaycee’s mother, Terry Probyn, and Ally. 

“That was my closure,” Ally said, noting that Terry told her that “not a day goes by that we don’t think about you and thank you for bringing her back.”  Ally hopes one day to be able to meet Jaycee, but she respects her need for privacy and healing. 

Ally was also was invited to be at the Garrido’s sentencing, where she had an unexpectedly tough time.  Sitting in the courtroom with Phil and Nancy Garrido sitting 20 feet away, she felt nauseous and disgusted.  As the charges were read, Ally began to weep when she first learned the details of the initial kidnapping, including that Garrido has used an electronic control device (ECD) on Jaycee. 

“That just seemed so egregious,” Ally exclaimed.  As a mom, she kept thinking about her own kids.  Garrido pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, his wife Nancy received 36 years. 

In many interviews, including mine, Ally Jacobs has stated how proud she is of Jaycee Lee Dugard for enduring all that she has suffered and what a wonderful mother she is for protecting and caring for her daughters while she was still a child herself.  Jaycee chronicles her ordeal in her book, A Stolen Life, which I highly recommend. 

But as a cop, a woman, and a mom, I’m extremely proud of Officer Allison Jacobs.  As is typical in our profession, accolades and awards often lead to petty jealousy and criticism.  As the Garrido case unfolded, Ally learned who her friends were and who her detractors were.  But she tends to be philosophical about it all. 

“I solve cases using my instincts every day, this one just happened to make news,” she says with a smile. 

Still “making things happen,” Ally is now pursuing an advanced degree and telling her story to other cops in a presentation that often earns her standing ovations:

“When you see something, say something; don’t be afraid to take risks.  We (law enforcement) are sometimes afraid to act because of liability or cynicism or some other excuse; but why would we ignore our instincts?  Be thorough, do your job.  We need to put our egos aside and cooperate with each other.”

Cooperation is what eventually brought Jaycee home. 

Few of us are prepared for the type of sudden and intense attention Ally Jacobs received (and is still experiencing) as the result of following her gut. Police administrators need to recognize that critical incident debriefing and aftercare are as necessary in these types of situations as they are following an officer involved shooting. 

Ally stresses in her presentation the need counseling and closure, even if that “closure” comes in stages.  She also reminds cops to remember what it felt like to be a rookie, to enjoy their jobs and to ask themselves every day “would I be happy with my actions today, or would I be embarrassed?”  Ally stresses personal accountability, regardless of the circumstances.   

“This happened to me for a reason,” she told me. 

And I believe she’s absolutely right.  Crimefighter. Woman warrior. Role model. Game changer. That’s Officer Ally Jacobs, and I’m proud to call her my friend.  

About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter

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