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Penny Harrington, first female police chief in a major U.S. city, dies in Morro Bay

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Posted at 4:54 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 02:17:49-04

Penny Harrington, who was a Morro Bay resident for the past 20 years, died on Sept. 15. She was 79-years-old.

Harrington was born in Lansing, Michigan and before residing on the Central Coast she lived in Portland, Oregon where she experienced many firsts.

She was the first female detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain for the city. After captain, she was appointed police chief which made her the first female police chief in a major U.S. city.

Harrington's passion for policing started in high school which lead her to earn her Bachelor's in Police Administration at Michigan State University. She moved to Portland with her family in 1964 where she started working for the department.

Throughout her career, Harrington fought to eliminate discriminatory policies and practices, developed and implemented a minority-recruiting program, and taught classes on sexual harassment and discrimination across the state of Oregon.

According to "Americans for Effective Law Enforcement", Harrington reduced burglary by 8% within three months as chief and reduced citizens' complaints by 30% in one year. She also guided the city through a difficult time where police killed three black people.

After a year and a half serving as police chief, Harrington resigned following pushback from her subordinates and an investigation into her husband and leadership.

After her resignation, Harrington did not stop pursuing her dreams. She authored several books, was appointed on a Justice Department National Panel on police brutality and diversity, consulted with dozens of cities and police departments on discrimination, and founded the National Center for Women and Policing.

In her retirement, Harrington pursued holistic healing which lead her to become a Reiki Master teacher, color therapist, and crystal healer.

Harrington moved to Morro Bay in 2010 where she opened up the Dragon Ruby rock shop. According to a post on the shop's Facebook page, "she fulfilled her lifelong call to service in a new light, offering crystals, readings, and support for the community."

A memorial service for Penny Harrington has not been announced.