Shirley Harlan, First Woman On The Redlands Police Force, Gone At 92

Shirley Harlan, 92, the first woman to serve as an officer with the Redlands Police Department and who later made a mark as a local civic affairs and national political activist most notably affiliated with the effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, has died.
With a deceptively calm demeanor that belied her hidden intensity and energy, Harlan multi-tasked through life and made herself relevant across four generations, springboarding herself and others on to each next stage.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1929 four weeks to the day before the stock market crash, she was the only child of parents who lacked high school diplomas. They pushed her to achieve academically and refine her talents. At a local hospital she served as what would later become known as a candy striper and volunteered as well at a Jewish community center. After her 1947 graduation from West Tech High School, she attended Western Reserve University, obtaining a bachelor of science in sociology with a minor in physical education.
In 1952, she moved to California from Ohio, and found a job as a social worker in San Bernardino almost immediately. It was while working in that capacity that she met Herbert Harlan, and they married in 1954 and started a family shortly thereafter, raising two children.
In the midst of that, in 1956, she applied for an open position as an officer with the Redlands Police Department, and secured a position within the previously all male domain by a combination of factors, the first being her finishing second in testing done of those taking a pre-hiring training class and the willingness of the department’s command structure, led by Police Chief Stanley R. Bowen, and the city’s leadership to take what was then an unorthodox path.
Harlan later recalled that the officers at the department were accommodating and showed no resentment toward her, but she did lament that she was left to her own devise when it came to her uniform. Policeman of that day, as is the case now, could buy their uniforms off the rack at clothing stores or specialty shops that outfitted police officers. No such attire was available in what was then off-the-beaten track Redlands, so Harlan, using her own sewing machine, had to design hers, using a pattern and material approximating that used for her colleagues’ uniforms she came up with on her own, matching, as best she could, the attire of the men she worked with. In this way, she maintained herself within the social protocol of the day, which was that women wore dresses. She complimented the dress with a pair of white shoes with moderate heels. Instead of a hip or shoulder holster, she carried her gun in her purse.
She later recounted that she had never used her gun in the line of duty, though she had honed her shooting skills on the shooting range, and had proven herself equal to or better than her fellow officers in that regard. On a single occasion, she said, she was present when her partner had fired his firearm when they encountered a resistant subject at his residence where they had gone to effectuate his arrest.
Harlan acknowledged there was a physical aspect to some police work, but that at the time, when she was in her late twenties and very early thirties, she was up to such challenges, since she was agile and fit, and ready to acquit herself if the need arose.
She was initially assigned all of the duties of a beat officer, which included patrolling the streets. After her first year, she was no longer spending the lion’s share of her time out on the streets, but was working, in accordance with Chief Bowen’s reassignment of her, as an investigator within the department’s three-member juvenile unit, then headed by Lieutenant Claude Miles and which also included Officer Arthur P. Crim III. In 1958, Miles stated publicly that “due a more adequate juvenile unit,” which was a reference to Harlan’s addition, arrests of youthful offenders in Redlands were increasing at a faster pace than were the offenses.
Chief Bowen also utilized Harlan as an officer/investigator in what was the department’s domestic violence division, although that was not its official title, as well as in pursuing female offenders and the perpetrators of sexual offenses. An element of Harlan’s job was going to schools to deal with students whose offenses necessitated them being detained, interviewed or transported to juvenile hall. She also served as the custody officer used for dealing with, searching and transporting women who had been arrested. When work on those assignments lagged, she would return to patrol.
In August 1961, Harlan resigned her post to accept a position as director of Las Amigas Girls Home, which had been established three years previously by Margaret Baer, who resigned as that facility’s operator to take a job with the Ventura Girls School in Ventura. In her letter of departure to Chief Bowen, Harlan wrote that “I consider myself fortunate to have been associated for the past four years with such a high caliber group of law enforcement officers. I am especially grateful to have received my basic training in juvenile work under an officer as able at Lt. Claude Miles.” In the letter to Bowen, Harlan said her training and experience with the department were of substantial aid in qualifying her for taking on the management of the orphanage.
Later, Harlan would say, “In the Redlands Police Department, all the officers were certainly some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever worked with.”
Her departure came a few months short of her five-year anniversary with the department, a milestone at which officers, at that time, were provided with a permanent metal badge.
Harlan threw herself into the operation of the residential school for girls, but ultimately was persuaded by the encouragement of others to get back into law enforcement work, and she became a San Bernardino County probation officer.
Having been forced by the standards of the times in the 1950s and early 1960s to wear a dress on a daily basis, a requirement imposed on women strictly because of their gender, Harlan was among the movement that began to rebel against this stricture in the late 1960s and early 1970s, defying dress codes that mandated that women wear dresses or skirts. She wore pants almost daily, though in a gesture to placate or evade the head of the probation department who was less than pleased with the growing number of women who were in defiance of what were workplace standards, she always had a dress she would change into whenever he was to be around.
In her role as a probation officer, she undertook a number of what were at least at first considered to be unorthodox approaches in seeking to ensure compliance on the part of probationers with the terms of their release and achieving the ultimate goal of the probationers’ rehabilitation.
She admitted that she did not always follow the rules just for the sake of following rules. Some things needed to change, she said, even though some people are not open to new ideas. She was ready to experiment with things if she thought they might work. “I have always been quirky,” she said. “I’m kind of an oddball.”
At least some of the different approaches she proposed or advocated were accepted. In the 1970s, after the department had acquired video production equipment intended to be used for videotaping training and instructional presentations for probation officers, Harlan sought to refocus the purpose of the equipment, utilizing it for involving youthful probationers in the production of videos to divert them from criminal activity and antisocial attitudes. Some of the probation department’s higher-ups were skeptical, particularly when the freedom given the youth participating in the project resulted in videos that took a critical view of juvenile hall or an instructional video on how to make a break from juvenile hall, as well as films that were less than laudatory of the probation department itself. Harlan overcame her superiors’ resistance to the program by pointing out that the process of creating the videos involved a degree of discipline and commitment on the part of the young probationers that included the writing of the scripts used, acting them out and mastering the techniques of videography and editing, which provided the probation office’s youthful charges with new skills, an understanding and appreciation of the importance of extended focus on a goal, labor and follow-through and a sense of accomplishment, even if it involved using their resentment and anger toward the probation department and other social institutions as a motivating factor.
Harlan retired from the probation department in 1989, and having herself picked up skills as a videographer, obtained cameras and editing equipment and set up a videography company she ran out of her home in San Bernardino.
For someone who had worked in law enforcement, Harlan possessed what some considered atypical “liberal” or “progressive” notions regarding certain elements of police work, most notably relating to training officers to use less aggressive means in dealing with the mentally ill.
She was politically active as a Democrat, as a member of the League of Women Voters and as a member of the Older Women’s League, which is devoted to finding solutions including public policy changes to solve challenges mid-life and aging women face.
As a Democrat, she was a longtime advocate of a public healthcare system, and after one was in place, she pushed for a single-payer healthcare system.
As someone who had defied the professional and circumstantial confines placed on women in her youth and young adulthood and who blazed a path in at least some measure in overcoming those limitations, she was not content to allow that progress to speak for itself, and she was active in the effort to put the Equal Rights Amendment before the American voters.
The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and introduced in Congress in 1923 which calls for guaranteeing equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of gender. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in matters of divorce, property ownership, employment and other matters.
For an initiative to amend the U.S. Constitution to be placed on the national ballot, it must receive ratification by the legislatures of 38 of the 50 states. At present, 38 of the 50 state legislatures have made such endorsements, but the 38th endorsement, that of the Virginia General Assembly, did not come until 2020, more than 40 years after the ratification deadline of March 22, 1979 originally set by Congress. In addition, five of those state legislatures have rescinded those endorsements.
As a resident of San Bernardino, Harlan was a frequent, indeed a virtually constant, attendee of San Bernardino City Council meetings over the last decade.
With her 90th birthday in October 2019, Redlands Police Chief Chris Catren and the woman who are now officers with the Redlands Police Department feted Harlan, at which time Catren presented her with the metal badge she had never received because she had left just short of logging her fifth complete year with the department.
-Mark Gutglueck

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