Odell H. Sylvester (November 3, 1924 – January 25, 2014) was the first African American deputy police chief of the Oakland Police Department, sworn in 1971.

Sylvester served as a military police officer (MP) during WWII. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 1948. Sylvester joined the Oakland Police Department on April 1, 1949. During the Korean War, he was called back to active duty.

Once back in Oakland in 1952, as one of the few black policemen on the force, he was assigned duty on Seventh Street which was a center of black culture in Oakland. He became a police lieutenant in 1961, a captain in 1963, and deputy chief in 1971. He was the first African American to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy police chief in OPD. 2 He earned a master's degree from USC in 1974.

In 1974, he helped supervise the implementation of a consent decree. At the time, people of color were more than 50% of Oakland's population, but only 12% of the force. The Penn-Stump Consent Decree also had special provisions for recruiting female officers. 3

In 1977, he left the force to become the first black chief of the Berkeley police department. 1 He switched departments because the chief in Oakland was an appointed position, whereas there was an exam to apply for the position in Berkeley. 2

Sylvester was born in a Dallas suburb called "The Bottom" in 1924, to Odell H. Sylvester, Sr. of Shreveport, Louisiana and Parthenia Wakefield (Sylvester) of Henderson, Texas.

In 2011, he wrote a memoir about his life and career, fittingly called "From the Bottom". Although he was a man of many firsts, he told Dave Newhouse he was proudest of "My work with juveniles." 2

Links and References

  1. Odell Sylvester, 89, Oakland’s First Black Police Chief Post News Group on Facebook
  2. A policeman of many firsts Dave Newhouse Oakland Tribune April 4, 2011
  3. Oakland Police Department Phil McArdle, Arcadia Publishing