On January 24, 1985, Penny Harrington became the Chief of Police of Portland, Oregon, making her the first female police chief of any major city. A little more than a year later she was forced to resign. As a result of the “forced resignation” Harrington filed a federal sex discrimination suit in 1987 claiming that members of the Portland Police Department “conspired to embarrass and drive her from office”, making it difficult for her to find employment following her “forced resignation”.
Before becoming Chief Harrington had risen from the ranks, her entire police career being with Portland. She was first hired by Portland in 1964, after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in police administration. She struggled with sex discrimination from the very beginning. Before becoming Chief, Harrington believed she was regularly the victim of discrimination in her efforts to be promoted; between 1969 and 1985 she filed 40 sex discrimination law suits, never losing any. Her first legal victory caused her to be the first woman ever to be transferred out of the Women’s Protective Division.
After leaving the Portland Police Bureau, Harrington became the Assistant Director of Investigations for the California State Bar, a position she held for seven years. She subsequently became the Director or the National Center for Women and Policing; in this position Harrington worked nationally to bring more women into policing and to help women gain promotions within their agencies. She currently works as a consultant.
In 2000, Harrington was inducted into the Michigan State University, School of Criminal Justice “Wall of Fame”. She was awarded a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2003 by the Feminist Majority and the National Center for Women and Policing.
–Nancy Campbell Mead