PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Way before Jessica Robledo broke down barriers by becoming the new Pflugerville chief of police, she was breaking down doors as the first female street narcotics officer at the Austin Police Department.
Robledo tells KXAN’s Sally Hernandez her passion for law enforcement started in San Angelo. While a student at Angelo State University, she worked three jobs to pay tuition. One was working security at the local mall when she spotted a shoplifter. Robledo says the thief dragged her through the mall determined to shake the petite rookie security officer but Robledo wouldn’t let go. “It wasn’t about the amount of what she stole, it was that what she was doing was wrong,” she says. That’s when Robledo says a career in law enforcement seemed like a perfect fit.
However, that’s not how her grandfather saw it. “My grandfather was very old fashioned, he was an orphan himself”
Before Robledo found her police family at the Austin Police Department, she was an only child growing up in Sonora, Texas. “It was a difficult childhood. When I was eight my father was murdered and at the age of nine, my mother died from an illness,” recalls Robledo.
Her maternal grandparents raised her but her grandfather’s tough love shaped her. “My grandfather was very old fashioned, he was an orphan himself,” recalls Robledo, as she describes how her grandparents never recovered from losing her mother. “My grandparents crumbled. When they would see me they would see her because I have her personality and my grandfather would always say ‘Tienes los ojos y corazon de tu mama (You have the eyes and the heart of your mother)’.'”
When Robledo failed the police exam in San Angelo, her grandfather’s fear of losing her to the dangers of law enforcement turned into disappointment and asked her leave. Acting on a tip from area recruiters that the Austin Police Department was hiring, Robledo packed her bags and left. She passed the police exam and was assigned to east Austin patrol, adding “what I felt when I went into east Austin, I felt like I was home because I could understand the plight of those people, because they were poor, I grew up poor.”
After 28 years with APD, Robledo retired with the rank of assistant chief. Robledo says she left APD on her own terms to pave the way for other women to climb the ranks. It didn’t take long before she was wearing another police badge, this time as chief of Pflugerville police. “One thing I had always said when I left APD was that I wanted to work for a smaller agency.”
Chief Robledo wasted no time reorganizing the command staff at the Pflugerville Police Department. “In my philosophy, you lead, follow or get out of the way and I lead by example. I knew what I was looking for on my leadership team and I had to make a decision. To me, it’s not personal. I saw strengths and weaknesses and I pushed my command staff out of their comfort zone and their head spun a little bit for 24 hours.”
When the dizzying task finally settles down, Robledo says she’s ready to hit the streets policing and leading. As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Robledo wants her police department of 87 officers to grow as well as become more diverse to reflect the city it serves. “We need more [officers],” she says.“We have so many different cultures that are here and we don’t even know about it.”
Photos of waterfalls, mountains and Austin’s Pennybacker Bridge (taken by a friend and officer at the Austin Police Department) cover the walls of Chief Robledo’s new Pflugerville office. You will not see many awards decorating the walls, not because the chief doesn’t have them but because “my grandfather used to tell me, if you’re that good, you don’t have to hang all your awards on your wall.” Robledo says she stares at the photos to bring her peace in an often dizzying world of top cop, but there’s one photo that brings her extra comfort: a photo of her smiling grandparents. When asked if she sees in herself what her grandfather saw in her, Robledo, touches her badge and tearfully says, “Yes, I just wish they were here but they are up there,” while pointing to the sky.