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Lansing native Penny Harrington, Portland's first female police chief, dies at 79

Posted at 8:25 AM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 08:25:26-04

LANSING, Mich. — The first woman to lead a major U.S. city's police department took her last breath on Sept. 15.

Penny Harrington was battling leukemia when she died, but her fight started long before her illness.

In 1964, the Lansing native and Michigan State University graduate, joined the Portland, Oregon, police force at a time when there weren't a lot of women working in law enforcement.

She may have worn a police hat, but breaking glass ceilings was like a second job.

She was the first woman in the Portland police department to become a detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and a captain.

Along the way, she filed 42 complaints about unequal pay, she told the Marshall Project in 2018.

In 1985, she did something many hadn't thought possible, became the city's police chief.

Harrington still faced opposition however, and was asked to resign after 17 months.

“If you’re a female or if you’re of color or all of the indignities that people across the board suffer...she was there...she was there to help and make sure that at least everyone got heard," said Janne' Reddell, Harrington's friend, of 15 years.

Harrington went on to work for the State Bar of California as director of investigations. She founded the National Center for Women and Policing, becoming an expert in women in law enforcement and later a reiki master teacher.