Scouting, Volume 74, Number 1, January-February 1986 Page: 21
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Her First Name Is Chief
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BY ARNOLD HANO
Photographs by Gene Daniels
THE PRECINCT CAPTAIN'S OFFICE
at East Precinct in Portland, Ore.,
bulged with onlookers. The captain
sat by the phone. Officers thronged
nearby. Everybody waited for the
phone to ring.
On this Thursday morning, Jan-
uary 24, 1985, the mayor of Portland
would pick the city's new police chief.
He would personally phone the four
When the phone finally rang, the
captain did not pick it up. At East Pre-
cinct, incoming calls are screened by
the desk officer. A minute later, desk
officer Dave Lewis buzzed.
"Captain," he said, "the mayor is on
the line, and all I can say is—he's ask-
ing for Chief Harrington!"
"My heart jumped," Harrington
says today. "I wanted to yell and
shout." No need. Everybody was doing
it for the Captain, pardon, the Chief.
Harrington picked up the phone, and
the mayor said, "I think I gave it away.
But don't tell anyone yet."
And the Chief said, "I'm afraid we're
a little late. They're swinging from the
chandeliers. Everybody is going
That is how Penny Eileen Harring-
ton learned she'd been appointed
police chief of the city of Portland. Not
just the first woman police chief in
Portland. The first woman police chief
of any major American city.
Today Penny Harrington looks back,
a few months of police-chiefing under
"I didn't think I was going to get the
job. Two days before, a subcommittee
made its recommendation to the
mayor on the four candidates. They
placed me third. I thought, 'Oh, geez,
even if he wanted me, he can't do it
Mayor Bud Clark, just a few months
in office, is a maverick—a bar-owner,
an ex-marine. "I'm happy that she's a
woman," the mayor said. "But what's
important is that we've got a good
police chief. She's been in the trenches
fighting for the past 21 years."
She has indeed. Not just the 42 sex
discrimination charges she lodged on
the way up. She's had to fight, literally.
A brown belt ju-jitsu expert, she
arrested runaways who fought against
being taken in. She helped disarm a
mentally disturbed man of the .45
automatic in his hand. "I've had 12
fights while on the police bureau,"
Penny Harrington says. "I haven't lost
She doesn't look like a fist-fighter.
She looks—well, she looks like an
attractive woman of 42, five-feet, six-
inches tall. What does she weigh?
"Too much," she says.
She diets, not always successfully.
On her 42nd birthday fellow officers
presented her a chocolate cake, with
chocolate frosting and pink flowers,
and "Happy Birthday Chief" on top.
"My husband says I shouldn't eat
any," she said, licking her fingers after
she'd cut the first slice. "But I will."
And she did.
Her husband is police officer Gary
For 21 years Penny
Harrington scraped and
struggled for women's
equality in professional
law enforcement. Today
she's the nations first
woman police chief of a
major metropolitan city.
Here’s what’s next.
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Boy Scouts of America. Scouting, Volume 74, Number 1, January-February 1986, periodical, January 1986; Irving, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth353619/m1/51/: accessed November 14, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boy Scouts of America National Scouting Museum.