Peggy York dies; first woman LAPD deputy chief, inspiration for TV’s ‘Cagney & Lacey’
The story of Margaret “Peggy” York’s groundbreaking career with the Los Angeles Police Department reads like the script for a TV show. In fact, it was the basis for the hit 1980s show “Cagney & Lacey,” which depicted one of York’s many firsts as half of a female homicide investigative team.
That was long before she blazed a trail for other women on the force, rising to become the first women deputy chief in LAPD history.
York, who spent 35 years advancing through the department, died Oct. 17 at the age of 80 after a series of illnesses, her husband, retired Judge Lance Ito, said.
The LAPD hailed her contributions.
“She joined policing at a time when policewomen were faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles,” Chief Michel Moore said. “… Her tenacity and spirit continue to inspire generations of women joining our ranks.”
When York began her career, female officers were relegated to desk jobs or working at jails. They were assigned the lowest-level detective work and could rise only to the rank of sergeant and could supervise only other women.
York was born Aug. 4, 1941, in Minerva, Ohio, to Ralph and Hazel Mandley. The family moved to the Los Angeles area when she was 13.
Her first job with the LAPD was as a civilian radio operator in 1965. She attended the police academy and in 1968 signed on as an officer. Through the years, she advanced from patrol officer to investigator, supervisor, lieutenant, captain and commander before she broke the department’s managerial glass ceiling to become its first deputy chief.
Upon her appointment by Chief Bernard Parks in 2000, she said, “In talking about the past, I like to also acknowledge the tremendous commitment of women who had no opportunities for advancement.”
In an oft-told story, York was at the scene of a murder in 1981 when she met the love of her life, Lance Ito. He recalled that they met at 4 a.m. in Eagle Rock, “looking over a dead body.” He was an attorney and she was working on her all-woman homicide team. They dated and were married a few months later. Ito rose to national fame when, as a Superior Court judge, he presided over the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.
During the trial, his wife’s LAPD history was raised by prosecutors who suggested Ito should recuse himself from the case because he would be biased in ruling on the admissibility of tapes on which former Det. Mark Fuhrman disparaged York.
“I love my wife dearly and I’m wounded by criticism of her as any spouse would be, and I think it is reasonable to assume that that could have an impact,” Ito said in an emotional response.
But he declined to step down and prosecutors withdrew their request, unwilling to risk a mistrial. A jury found Simpson not guilty of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
York retired in 2002 and the following year became chief of the Los Angeles County Office of Public Safety, a specialized police agency responsible for county facilities, parks and hospitals. With 600 sworn officers and 750 contracted security guards, it was the county’s fourth-largest police agency. She retired from that position in 2009.
In retirement York dedicated herself to public service with groups such as the Salvation Army, Rotary Club, the Children’s Court Committee, Women Against Gun Violence and the Los Angeles Police Museum, where she served as chair of the Chief’s Circle. In 2008, she ran a strong campaign for a seat on the Pasadena City Council, losing to future Mayor Terry Tornek.
After Ito’s retirement in 2015, the couple traveled widely and spent time with friends and family. She had three children from a former marriage to Donald York.
“She was not afraid to challenge conventional roles for women. The law enforcement community is poorer without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity,” said Cmdr. Ruby Flores, president of the Los Angeles Women Police Officers and Associates. “We lost a titan of a woman. But her legacy and contributions towards the advancement of women on the LAPD will live on.”
In addition to her husband of 40 years, she is survived by brothers Gregory and Jeff Mandley, sons David and Dennis York, daughter Cynthia York Shadian, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Deutsch is a special correspondent.
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