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Drew: America’s Most Progressive City for Women in Law Enforcement

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

The state of Oregon is best known for its diverse landscape and many outdoor recreational opportunities such as scenic bike trails, lush forests, and beautiful lakes. It’s largest city Portland has a population of 652,503 people.
A little-known fact is that the city is also famous for providing opportunities for women in law enforcement. In 1908, Portland, Oregon appointed Lola Baldwin as the superintendent of the Women’s Protective Division (WPD), making her the first policewoman in the U.S.
In 1985, Portland again made history by appointing Penny Harrington as the first Chief of Police of a major U.S. city police department. Harrington initially envisioned herself in a traditional female stereotypical role such as a secretary, but after seeing a policewoman at her high school career fair, her perspective and career goal changed.
Even though Harrington was initially hired by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to work in the Women’s Protective Division which was considered progressive in its inception in 1908, but not so much in 1964. Portland was indeed forward thinking in its hiring of females in law enforcement, but it required stereotypical attire for its female officers such as “ladylike” clothes. This attire consisted of silk blouses with a bow, black slingback pumps and white gloves.
Harrington learned about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and quickly applied for a detective position which had traditionally been for patrolmen only. She became a detective with a lot of push back from fellow officers who felt she had taken a job slated for a man. Statements like “You took a man’s job, who is head of his household and the family’s major breadwinner.” This did not deter her and she continued to move up within the department. Her career consisted of many highs and lows.
Portland hired its first African American Chief of Police, Danielle Outlaw in 2017. Outlaw was a 19-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department in Oakland, California.
With an increasingly diverse community, strained police community relationship and a daunting list of federally mandated reforms, Outlaw was selected from a national search that lasted just shy of three months. The mayor was quoted as saying, “I have concrete goals for the Portland Police Bureau, all of them challenging to achieve. I need a partner. I need a leader. More than that, I need someone with a passion for this work who will be in it for the long haul. Danielle Outlaw is that person.”
Her former colleagues said, “She’s the real deal. She’s honest. She’s always been very personable and forthright and genuine.” Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb also said, “She established a great relationship with the community here.”
On Feb. 10, 2020, Outlaw achieved another notch in her belt by becoming the first African American Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department.
We should applaud each one of these women during March Women’s Month. In spite of commonly held traditional beliefs about women in key leadership positions, they all forged ahead despite the negative voices of their times. All three of these women were pioneers in the Portland, Oregon community and led the efforts to Keep an Eye on Safety for this city.