Portland's first female police chief, Penny Harrington, dies at 79
Penny Harrington, a groundbreaking force in the Portland Police Bureau, died on Sept. 15 at 79 years of age.
Harrington was the first female detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain at the Portland Police Bureau. She later went on to be appointed chief — making her the first-ever female chief of a major police agency in the country.
Current Chief Chuck Lovell confirmed the news in a pair of tweets on Friday, Sept. 17. In the tweets, Lovell said Harrington influenced women across the nation, both during her tenure as chief and throughout the rest of her life.
"It's with great sadness that we heard the news that Penny Harrington, former Chief has died," Lovell said. "We extend our sympathy to her family and friends during this difficult time."
Harrington began working as a policewoman in 1964. At the time, there were only 12 women in her department. She was appointed chief by then-Mayor Bud Clark in January 1985. Following a controversy over an unauthorized contact between her police officer husband and a drug suspect, an investigative report characterized her administration as a failure after 17 months. She subsequently resigned in 1986.
The next year, Harrington filed a federal sex discrimination suit claiming that members of the police department "conspired to embarrass and drive her from office," making it difficult for her to obtain employment following her "forced" resignation. She then became a special assistant to the California State Bar's director of investigations to "handle a wide range of special projects, including training and computers."
In 1995, Harrington founded The National Center for Women & Policing with Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. It aims to increase the number of women in law enforcement in to improve police response to violence against women, as well as reduce police brutality and excessive force, and improve community policing reforms.
Harrington died in Morro Bay, California, where she lived.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.
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