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Dave Newhouse: A policeman of many firsts

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From his 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.

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)

For Sylvester achieved many important firsts in his lifetime as the Thomas Edison of East Bay law enforcement.

His rise through the Oakland Police Department was unprecedented. He was the first African-American to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy police chief.

Then he took it a step higher as Berkeley’s first black police chief.

“It can be done,” he said of his succession of firsts. “I want it emphasized that I don’t want excuses. Get yourself prepared. Don’t say that white folks are the reason why you aren’t successful. White people have a lot of problems, too. There are a whole lot of people in America who are just poor.”

Sylvester, 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.”

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