Penny Harrington, who smashed blue ceiling, dies at 79



Penny Harrington, who after years of fighting gender discrimination in the Portland, Oregon Police Department, became his first female chief of police – and the first woman to lead a police department from a large city of the country – died on September 15 at her home. at her home in Morro Bay, California. She was 79 years old.

The cause was leukemia and respiratory arrest, said Janne Reddell, a friend.

Ms Harrington made a career out of smashing glass ceilings in Portland: she was the first woman there to become a detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain before smashing the highest of all, becoming a chef. It was in 1985, when Ms. Magazine named her “Woman of the Year”. Harvard Law School named her one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Law in 1986.

But her ambition to do the same work as men and receive equal pay for it came at a cost – she was locked in a constant and disheartening struggle with what she called the “boys-only club,” which has led to a difficult tenure as leader and a forced resignation after only 17 months on the job.

But she was nevertheless able to use her experience to become one of the country’s foremost experts on women in the police force. She has consulted dozens of police departments on hiring women, has been an expert witness in cases of discrimination, and founded the National Center for Women and Policing, a Los Angeles-based organization that promotes the hiring of women in all levels of law enforcement.

Penny Eileen Ledyard was born March 3, 1942, the oldest of four children, in Lansing, Michigan, where she was raised. His mother, Mary (Morley) Ledyard, was a housewife. Her father, Edward Ledyard, was a factory superintendent.

Penny and her sister and two brothers were raised gender-neutral, all doing the dishes as well as working in the outdoors, Ms. Harrington said in a 2020 interview on the “The 6% With NancyMD” podcast, which starred focuses on women in male dominated fields. (The host, Dr Nancy Yen Shipley, is an orthopedic surgeon, in an area where women make up just 6 percent of its practitioners.)

On ‘career day’ in high school, Ms Harrington said, she followed a woman into the police force and was captivated by the idea of ​​becoming an officer herself.

At Michigan State University, she specialized in police administration. She moved to Oregon after graduating in 1964 and went to work for the Portland Police Department in the Women’s Protection Division.

Policewomen there were required to wear “feminine” attire, including white gloves, and had to have a university degree. Men only needed a high school diploma or its equivalent. And the men were making more money.

Ms Harrington worked in the women’s division for five years and has been repeatedly denied promotion. So when the patrollers formed a union, she was willing to help them organize. Captain Leo Miller, who recruited her to help with the union, gave her a copy of “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), Betty Friedan’s feminist manifesto, and it opened her eyes.

“It said everything I was feeling,” she told the podcast. “Women are pushed into a narrow role, and we think that’s all there is for us.”

The union effort was successful, but she always found herself stuck in promotion. One day, she walked into the mayor’s office and asked to be transferred out of the women’s division, threatening legal action if she was not. She was quickly transferred.

She continued to push for equality and eventually helped change many rules. One of his most important acts was to persuade Portland City Council to change the classification of the position from “patroller” to “police officer”. The victory was more than semantic; this meant that detective exams which were only reserved for “patrollers” were now open to “police officers”, who, thanks to her, included women.

“You don’t have to be mad, screaming in the streets, ripping your bra feminists off,” Ms. Harrington said on the podcast. “You just have to be smart and understand what’s holding you back. It’s usually a stupid rule.

As she rose through the ranks in the 1970s and 1980s, her life became increasingly stressful. Many of the men in the force did not want women, saying they were unskilled and taking jobs that should be given to men, who had families to support. They complained that if a woman was called in to settle a family dispute, she would automatically side with the woman. Some men have complained that their wives would be irritated if they worked with a woman. She received obscene and threatening letters and phone calls from the public.

But Mrs Harrington persisted. She slowly succeeded in equalizing wages, filing 42 complaints from 1975 to 1978, according to The Marshall Project, the nonprofit news organization that covers the criminal justice system and interviewed her in 2018.

She also targeted the size requirement of the department, which retained women. She was furious when the mayor, who had pledged during his campaign to drop the height requirement, reversed his decision, saying women were not strong enough to arrest a man without using their guns.

“Let’s go outside,” she told him. “And if I can’t put those handcuffs on you in less than a minute, then I’ll shut up and go.”

He agreed to read his research on the subject and finally gave in.

Mrs Harrington was famous for standing up for herself. When a captain grabbed her hand and rubbed it on her genitals, she said, “I hit him in the face and threw him to the ground.”

In 1985, Portland’s new mayor, Bud Clark, sought to overhaul police culture and appointed Ms Harrington chief, claiming she was the most qualified candidate.

She pioneered neighborhood policing in Portland and reduced the burglary rate. She also highlighted new policies to de-escalate violence and control the use of force.

But almost immediately, she said in the podcast, “anything that could go wrong went wrong.” Her budget was cut by 10% and she had to lay off 72 employees. Police officers killed a black man using a so-called “sleeper” wedge, which cut off circulation to his brain, scandalizing the community. When two white officers sold T-shirts to other officers who said “Don’t choke them, smoke them”, along with an image of a smoking handgun, she sought to shoot them. They eventually got their jobs back, but the union became deeply hostile to him and openly rebelled against many of his decisions.

A special panel concluded that Ms Harrington had lost the confidence of her command and recommended her dismissal. As she left her last meeting with the mayor, in June 1986, he tried to cheer her up and told her ‘Boobs in the Air’, according to a sex discrimination lawsuit she filed over late. (He eventually apologized to city workers, who said he had been insulted.)

She said she had no choice but to quit and did.

Ms Harrington couldn’t find work for two years, she said, until she was hired by the California State Bar Association as deputy director of investigations. She stayed there for seven years and developed an expertise in discrimination law based on sex and race. His memoir, “Triumph of the Spirit”, was published in 1999.

But it was worn out, she says, and in 2010 moved to the coastal town of Morro Bay, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There she pursued holistic healing, becoming a Reiki master teacher and crystal healer. She also opened the Ruby Dragon store, where she sold stones; she then enlarged it into an event space.

His two marriages, with Richard Orazetti and then with Mr. Harrington, ended in divorce. She is survived by her sister, Roberta Webber, and a granddaughter. Her son, Brian Orazetti, died of brain cancer in 2015.

In 2018, as the “Me Too” movement inspired women in various professions to speak out against sexual harassment and discrimination, Ms. Harrington lamented to the Marshall Project that women in law enforcement had not come forward.

“It tells you how bad it is for the women out there,” she said. “They still don’t dare to speak.


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