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How They Missed Jaycee

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Since 1999, when he was placed under California parole supervision for a 1976 rape in Nevada, Phillip Garrido, 58, was subject to drug testing, required to wear a GPS device and subject to twice-monthly visits by his state parole officer. In 2006, a neighbor called 9-1-1 to report that children were living in Garrido's backyard in squalor, but the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department failed to search the registered sex offender's premises.

Last month, UC Berkeley Police Officer Allison Jacobs became suspicious of Garrido, figured out that he was a registered sex offender who was accompanied by two adolescent girls, and contacted Garrido's parole officer. Jacobs told reporters that when she mentioned the girls, whom Garrido said were his daughters, the parole officer responded, "Garrido doesn't have any daughters."

Garrido and his 55-year-old wife, Nancy, have been arraigned on a total of 29 charges of rape and kidnapping in connection with the 1991 abduction of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard. They have pleaded not guilty.

Throughout the Bay Area, people are wondering how a registered sex offender under parole supervision could manage to hide Dugard, now 29 -- and apparently sire her two daughters, ages 11 and 15.

"We are beating ourselves up over this," Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf told reporters. He offered his "apologies to the victims" as he accepted "responsibility" for what did not happen.

Gordon Hinkle of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told The Chronicle that Garrido essentially outfoxed parole officers by building a fence that served as "a false front" for a "secret" backyard. The department issued a press release that noted that the parole officer's "diligent questioning and follow up ... led to Garrido revealing his kidnapping of the adult female."

Some Antioch residents -- fairly or otherwise, because who would think there might be an extra backyard? -- may not consider the parole department to have been particularly "diligent."

One law that did work here: Megan's Law. Neighbors have told reporters that they went onto the California Attorney General's Megan's Law website (www.meganslaw.ca.gov) and discovered that Garrido was a registered sex offender. They knew to keep their kids away from "Creepy Phil," as he was known.

Some civil libertarians and editorialists have argued for curbs on Megan's Law. Last month, before this story broke, the Economist editorialized: "Instead of posting everything on the Internet, names could be held by the police, who would share them only with those, such as a school, that need to know." And: "The money that a repeal saves could help pay for monitoring compulsive molesters more intrusively -- through ankle bracelets and the like."

Sorry, but if only experts were in charge, Garrido likely would be written off as low risk -- with only a parole violation in 1993 for a crime for which he was first paroled in 1988.

The best crime-fighting tool, which allowed parents to watch out for their children and enabled Jacobs to unravel the mystery, was knowledge.

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