Story Highlights• Cathy Lanier dropped out of high school, became mother at age 15
• Sued Washington in sexual harassment case in 1995, settled for $75,000
• Plans to focus on police interaction with public
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(CNN) -- The new Washington police chief, Cathy Lanier, is no stranger to challenges.
She dropped out of high school after the ninth grade, and gave birth to her son when she was just 15.
"Instead of viewing the situation as negative, you just kind of have to move on," she told CNN in a recent interview. "I had a child to raise and that was the most important thing to me. And I knew that I wanted him to go to good schools, and I knew I wanted him to have the option to go to college. ...So I just ... pushed on."
She later earned a high school equivalency degree, and became a police officer in 1990. She also went on to receive bachelor's and master's degrees in management from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and another master's degree in national security from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
"It was a lot of long hours, but I just enjoy learning, and it has helped me tremendously in my profession," she said of her education.
Much like her personal life, her 17 years in the police force are peppered with highs and lows.
She has held an impressive number of high-level positions, including the first commanding officer for the Metropolitan Police Department's Office of Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism.
But she also was sexually harassed on the job in 1995 by a lieutenant who sometimes supervised her, according to The Washington Post. Lanier and another female colleague sued the city. The district eventually settled the case, and $75,000 to Lanier and Sgt. Lena V. Johnson, The Post reported in 1997.
"It had happened several times in my career," Lanier told CNN about the harassment. "I looked around, and I knew there were so many other police women that were going through the same thing. ...I just thought at some point somebody has to stand up and say something."
Lanier -- the first female police chief of the nation's capital -- has big plans for her force. "We need to move our organization forward with technology. We want to be very progressive," she said. "But I think the interaction with the public, the customer service is so critical. ... Our focus is there."
She added, "I want to recruit and retain the best policemen in the country. ... I should have policemen lining up at the door to come here. ... And I will."