Penny Harrington, Who Broke a Blue Ceiling, Dies at 79

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Overcoming bias, she became the archetypal pistillate to caput a large metropolis constabulary section successful the nation, successful Portland, Ore. But a rocky tenure led her to resign 17 months later.

Penny Harrington successful  her bureau   successful  1985, erstwhile   she was the constabulary  main  of Portland, Ore. She aboriginal    utilized  her acquisition   to go  1  of the nation’s foremost experts connected  women successful  policing.
Credit...Don Ryan/Associated Press

Katharine Q. Seelye

Published Sept. 24, 2021Updated Sept. 25, 2021, 9:04 a.m. ET

Penny Harrington, who, aft years of warring sex favoritism successful the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau, became its archetypal pistillate constabulary main — and the archetypal pistillate to caput a large metropolis constabulary section successful the state — died connected Sept. 15 astatine her location successful Morro Bay, Calif. She was 79.

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

Ms. Harrington made a vocation of breaking solid ceilings successful Portland: She was the archetypal pistillate determination to go a detective, a sergeant, a lieutenant and a skipper earlier shattering the highest 1 of all, becoming chief. That was successful 1985, erstwhile Ms. mag declared her “woman of the year.” Harvard Law School named her 1 of the 10 astir influential women successful instrumentality successful 1986.

But her ambition to bash the aforesaid enactment arsenic men and person adjacent wage for it came astatine a outgo — she was locked successful a constant, dispiriting conflict with what she called the “boys-only club,” which led to a rocky tenure arsenic main and a forced resignation aft conscionable 17 months connected the job.

She was nevertheless capable to leverage her acquisition to go 1 of the nation’s foremost experts connected women successful policing. She consulted for dozens of constabulary departments connected hiring women, served arsenic an adept witnesser successful favoritism cases, and founded the National Center for Women and Policing, a Los Angeles-based enactment that promotes the hiring of women astatine each levels of instrumentality enforcement.

Penny Eileen Ledyard was calved connected March 3, 1942, the oldest of 4 children, successful Lansing, Mich., wherever she grew up. Her mother, Mary (Morley) Ledyard, was a homemaker. Her father, Edward Ledyard, was a mill superintendent.

Penny and her sister and 2 brothers were raised without respect to gender, each of them doing the dishes arsenic good arsenic outdoor work, Ms. Harrington said successful a 2020 interview connected the podcast “The 6% With NancyMD,” which focuses connected women successful male-dominated fields. (The host, Dr. Nancy Yen Shipley, is an orthopedic surgeon, moving successful a tract successful which women marque up lone 6 percent of its practitioners.)

On “career day” successful precocious school, Ms. Harrington said, she shadowed a pistillate connected the constabulary unit and was captivated by the thought of becoming an serviceman herself.

At Michigan State University, she majored successful constabulary administration. She moved to Oregon aft graduating successful 1964 and went to enactment for the Portland Police Bureau, successful the Women’s Protective Division.

Female officers determination had to deterioration “ladylike” attire, including achromatic gloves, and were required to person a assemblage degree. Men needed lone a precocious schoolhouse diploma oregon its equivalent. And men made much money.

Ms. Harrington worked successful the women’s part for 5 years and kept being denied a promotion. So erstwhile the patrolmen were starting a union, she was receptive to helping them organize. Capt. Leo Miller, who recruited her to assistance with the union, gave her a transcript of “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), the feminist manifesto by Betty Friedan, and it opened her eyes.

“It said everything I felt,” she told the podcast. “Women get pushed into a constrictive role, and we deliberation that’s each determination is for us.”

The national effort was successful, but she inactive recovered herself blocked from promotion. One time she marched into the mayor’s bureau and demanded to beryllium transferred retired of the women’s division, threatening a suit if she wasn’t. She was rapidly transferred.

She continued to propulsion for equality and yet helped alteration galore of the rules. One of her astir important acts was persuading the Portland City Council to alteration the occupation classification of “patrolman” to “police officer.” The triumph was much than semantic; it meant that exams for detectives that had been unfastened lone to “patrolmen” were present unfastened to “police officers,” which, acknowledgment to her, included women.

“You don’t person to beryllium rabid, screaming successful the streets, tearing disconnected your bra feminists,” Ms. Harrington said connected the podcast. “You conscionable person to beryllium astute and fig retired what’s holding you back. It’s usually a anserine rule.”

As she roseate done the ranks successful the 1970s and ’80s, her beingness got much stressful. Many men connected the unit didn’t privation women around, saying they weren’t qualified and were taking jobs that should beryllium fixed to men, who had families to support. They complained that if a pistillate was called to settee a household dispute, she would automatically broadside with the woman. Some men complained that their wives would beryllium irritated if they worked with a woman. She received lewd and threatening letters and telephone calls from the public.


Credit...Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

But Ms. Harrington persisted. She dilatory managed to equalize pay, filing 42 complaints from 1975 to 1978, according to The Marshall Project, the nonprofit quality enactment that covers the transgression justness strategy and that interviewed her successful 2018.

She besides took purpose astatine the department’s tallness requirement, which held women back. She was furious erstwhile the mayor, who had promised during his run to driblet that requirement, reneged, saying women weren’t beardown capable to apprehension a antheral without utilizing their weapons.

“Let’s spell outside,” she said she told him. “And If I can’t get these handcuffs connected you successful little than 1 minute, past I’ll unopen up and spell away.”

He agreed to work her probe connected the taxable and yet relented.

Ms. Harrington was celebrated for lasting up for herself. When a skipper grabbed her manus and rubbed it crossed his genitals, she said, “I punched him successful the look and knocked him to the ground.”

In 1985, Portland’s caller mayor, Bud Clark, sought to overhaul the constabulary civilization and appointed Ms. Harrington chief, saying she was the astir qualified candidate.

She went connected to pioneer vicinity policing successful Portland and reduced the burglary rate. She besides emphasized caller policies connected de-escalating unit and controlling the usage of force.

But astir immediately, she said connected the podcast, “everything that could spell incorrect did spell wrong.” Her fund was slashed by 10 percent, and she had to laic disconnected 72 employees. Police officers killed a Black antheral by utilizing a alleged sleeper hold, which chopped disconnected circulation to his brain, outraging the community. When 2 achromatic officers sold T-shirts to different officers that said “Don’t choke ’em, fume ’em,” with a representation of a smoking handgun, she sought to occurrence them. They yet got their jobs back, but the national became profoundly antagonistic toward her and openly rebelled against galore of her decisions.

A peculiar sheet concluded that Ms. Harrington had mislaid the assurance of her bid and recommended her removal. As she near her last gathering with the mayor, successful June 1986, helium tried to cheer her up and told her, “Tits up,” according to a sex-discrimination suit that she aboriginal filed. (He yet apologized to metropolis workers, who said they were insulted.)

She said she had nary prime but to resign and did so.

Ms. Harrington couldn’t find enactment for 2 years, she said, until she was hired by the California State Bar Association arsenic adjunct manager of investigations. She stayed for 7 years and developed an expertise successful sex and radical favoritism law. Her memoir, “Triumph of the Spirit,” was published successful 1999.

But she was worn down, she said, and successful 2010 settled successful the coastal municipality of Morro Bay, betwixt Los Angeles and San Francisco. There she pursued holistic healing, becoming a reiki maestro teacher and a crystal healer. She besides opened the Ruby Dragon shop, wherever she sold rocks; she aboriginal expanded it into an lawsuit space.

Both of her marriages, to Richard Orazetti and past to Mr. Harrington, ended successful divorce. She is survived by her sister, Roberta Webber, and a granddaughter. Her son, Brian Orazetti, died of encephalon crab successful 2015.

In 2018, arsenic the “Me Too” movement was inspiring women successful aggregate professions to talk retired against intersexual harassment and discrimination, Ms. Harrington lamented to The Marshall Project that women successful instrumentality enforcement had not stepped forward.

“That tells you however atrocious it is for women successful there,” she said. “They inactive don’t situation talk up.”

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