Harlean Howard started her career in law enforcement as one of the first female officers in Philadelphia. Now, more than 30 years later, she is one of few minority women leading a police department in South Carolina.
Howardtook over Friday as Lancaster's first female, black chief, replacing retiring Hugh White, who had held the office for 11 years.
She said she is still blazing a path for women in law enforcement, but she doesn't focus on that.
"I think my challenges will run the gamut in terms of what any chief would face," Howard said. "I don't look at this job in terms of gender or of race, but in terms of a service that needs to be done. I'll be trying to raise the levels of professionalism and efficiency."
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Howard, 54, started her career with Philadelphia police in 1978, a time where a federal lawsuit mandated the department hire female officers, Howard said.
"As part of a challenge, really, I applied," she said. "I was in one of the first police training classes to have women.
"It was difficult coming into a large department with traditionally all male officers. I was met with some open doors, as well as some closed doors."
Howard said she had to deal with the mindsets of so many different people she encountered.
"We were training to meet, or to raise, expectations, if you will," she said. "In some ways, it was very harsh but I stuck with it."
Howard, a mother of three adult children, who also raised her nephew, has worked for Lancaster Police Department for 20 years. She rose through the ranks from patrol officer to captain and now chief.
Her first job in the department was undercover, buying drugs from dealers, she said.
"Every day in this job is interesting. You see a lot. You're confronted with different situations each day, and I try to make the best of each day; try to make sure that I perform my duties to their fullest."
White said the city could not have made a better choice to replace him.
"Capt. Howard and I have worked together for 20 years now, and she's been a great help to me, to the department during her time," White said. "She's a person with a lot of integrity."
White said Howard is very community-oriented.
"She and I worked together on projects in the communities, specifically in areas where we were having a lot of crime and problems in," White said.
"I could see early on that she went above and beyond the call of duty to do whatever she could to improve the quality of life for people in those communities," he said.
Paul Smith, training manager at Lancaster Police Department, echoed White's sentiments.
"She's excellent to work with," he said. "She's very devoted to the department. She cares about her employees and the community. She's very approachable regardless of seniority."
It means a lot, Smith said, that Howard has remained dedicated to the department, moving up the ranks. Howard, who has been a captain since 2003, is the department's training officer, its primary grant writer, evidence custodian, computer network administrator and public information officer.
"It's obvious she has the department's best interest in mind," he said. "She's definitely fun to work with."
When she is not working, Howard said she enjoys reading, traveling and going to movies.
Howard said she wanted to lead the 38-officer staff to make a difference for the residents and the members of the department.
As for specific goals for the department, Howard said she wants to talk to the staff to find out what their goals are before she sets her priorities.
White said he has no doubt Howard will do an outstanding job.
"She's one of a kind. She's a sweet, genuine person. She cares about people. It's important to have those qualities in this job."