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PD Editorial: Hard lessons learned 20 years later

  • (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

For Sonoma County, the kidnapping of Polly Hannah Klaas was a moment frozen in time — a staggering blow to the region's sense of security and quality of life.

Most people can still remember where they were when they heard about the abduction of the 12-year-old Petaluma girl 20 years ago today. Still more can recall the fateful moment when they learned that the two-month hunt for the seventh-grader with the infectious smile, a search involving some 4,000 people, was all for naught.

As former Petaluma City Councilman Dave Keller told Staff Writer Mary Callahan, “It's not just a lingering memory. It's kind of your worst nightmare as a parent, and your worst nightmare as a child.”

Remembering Polly Klaas

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And the culprit, Richard Allen Davis, 59, who remains on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, was the embodiment of that nightmare.

While the passing of two decades has done nothing to erase the grief, county residents can take some comfort in the changes that have occurred to correct the deficiencies exposed in the hours after Polly was taken at knife point from her home during a sleep-over with friends.

One major deficiency concerned communications. When two sheriff's deputies encountered Richard Allen Davis late on Oct. 1, 1993 on a remote section of Pythian Road east of Santa Rosa, they were unaware that an abduction had occurred just an hour earlier. Although an alert had gone out, the deputies were using a different radio channel than the one used by Petaluma police. So they let him go.

Although investigators believe Polly was probably already dead at that point, the missed connection remains a disturbing factor in this narrative. But that flaw later led to significant improvements in inter-department communications and the creation of Child Abduction Response Teams, which now help public safety agencies work together to handle similar high-profile cases.

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