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Boys and Girls Club of Oakland
Odell H. Sylvester*
Chief of Police, Berkeley Police Department, Retired
Odell Sylvester, first black ...
Odell Sylvester, first black man to rise to deputy chief in Oakland Police Department, dies
By Nanci L. Valcke Oakland Tribune Correspondent
Posted: 02/10/2014 12:41:50 PM PST
Updated: 02/10/2014 01:45:43 PM PST
Click photo to enlarge
Odell Sylvester, 86, points to a wall in his home that commemorates many of his academic and law enforcement achievements, including being Oakland's first African American deputy police chief on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 in Oakland Calif.
is now retired and writing his
memoirs. (Deeba Yavrom/Staff)
OAKLAND -- Odell Sylvester was not the first black man to join the Oakland Police Department.
was the first black man to attain the rank of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy chief.
Along the way he
gained a reputation for his
firmness, fairness and compassion for the community, particularly young people.
Sylvester served as a military police officer during World War II and the Korean War.
He received his bachelor's from UC Berkeley in 1948 and earned a master's from USC in 1974.
"He was very intelligent," said retired Oakland Police Officer Arthur Cravanas, who partnered with Sylvester in the early years.
After 28 years with the Oakland Police Department, Sylvester retired in 1977.
He then became the first black police chief in Berkeley, serving in that position until 1980 when he retired for health reasons.
Odell Sylvester, 86, ...
Odell Sylvester, 86, Oakland's first African American deputy police chief, stands in front of a wall in his home that commemorates many of his academic and law enforcement achievements Wednesday, March 23, 2011, in Oakland Calif.
Sylvester is now retired and writing his memoirs. (Deeba Yavrom/Staff)
high-rise lodging, Odell Sylvester
still keeps an eye on Oakland
and the city streets below, the same streets he
patrolled a half-century ago.
But, in truth, Oakland
should look up to him as a trailblazer.
achieved many important firsts in his
lifetime as the Thomas Edison of East Bay law enforcement.
rise through the Oakland
Police Department was unprecedented.
was the first African-American to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy police chief.
took it a step higher as Berkeley's first black police chief.
"It can be done," he
said of his
succession of firsts.
, 85, is almost finished writing his
memoirs, which he
has appropriately titled, "From The Bottom.
For he also was born in a Dallas district known as "The Bottom."
"It was a highly segregated place," he
"The water washed through the muddy streets."
Undaunted, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1948, then earned a master's degree at the University of Southern California in 1974.
police promotions weren't tokenism; He
passed the same written examinations that many of his
white colleagues failed.
Sylvester took it, came out No. 1, and became the chief in 1977.
lasted three years on the job officially, but couldn't perform his
duties for a year because of what the media described as a back and neck ailment.
received a disability retirement, but says now that his
heart was the main problem in Berkeley
since has had two small heart attacks, and two pacemakers implanted in the past eight years.
Police work has changed dramatically since he
last wore the star.
"It's so much more politicized," he
The l979-l980 City Council: The BCA/Carole Davis Majority
Odell Sylvester, Berkeley's first black Police Chief, complained to the Council on October 23, l979 that the reductions would "slowly strangle" the force's ability to deal with crime.
Inside Bay Area - Home
Velasco also developed a relationship with the police, especially African-American officers like Odell Sylvester, who walked the beat in the neighborhood and went on to become Berkeley's first black police chief in 1977, Lopez said.