Sunday, June 17, 2018
News Roundup

Former St. Petersburg police spokesman Dan Bates dies at 63

ST. PETERSBURG — Dan Bates wore his police uniform proudly, with extra starch in his shirts and a reflective shoeshine.

Police work was one of several interwoven callings he pursued simultaneously. Mr. Bates joined St. Petersburg police in 1975 and would become one of its foremost communicators, whether handling the press or clowning as McGruff the Crime Dog.

He helped businesses stay safe, from the new YMCA to Midtown and Tropicana Field, sharing his expertise on crime prevention.

Through music and his Christian faith, he spread a gospel of hope to friends, prisoners and strangers.

Mr. Bates, who spent a 27-year career with the St. Petersburg Police Department, serving as the department's spokesman and an expert in crime prevention, died Feb. 26 at home. He was 63.

"He talked to the homeless, prostitutes, criminals," said Carol Ann Bates, his wife. "You would think that someone who had spent all those years in law enforcement would develop a hard heart for individuals who used drugs or had a history of being in jail. But Dan never had any prejudice."

A friend of 25 years learned that quality firsthand. Jim McConnell Jr. was newly recovering from a drug addiction in 1989 when he attended a three-day retreat organized by the Lutheran church. He began chatting with the man in the next seat.

"For a guy with a drug problem to be sitting next to a cop turned out to be ironic," said McConnell, 60. "He reminded me that the grace of Christ was there for all of us."

Daniel Robert Bates was born in West Allis, Wis., in 1950, the son of a police officer. He learned to play the guitar, fiddle and mandolin, another form of ministry he would practice throughout his life.

After two marriages of a few years each, he married Carol Ann in 1996. They shared a spiritual bond. Mr. Bates led a 300-member men's group in Bible Study Fellowship. Even his dogs were ministerial. Two golden retrievers, the late Brandy and Bella, had been trained as therapy dogs.

Mr. Bates retired from St. Petersburg police in 2002. He taught police work at St. Petersburg College, then served as a codes manager for the city of Clearwater before joining the Belleair Police Department in 2010.

Belleair police Lt. Bill Sohl called him a "standout officer and a good detective" with an infectious laugh.

"Once you walk into a room, if he was already laughing, you didn't have to know what it was about, it was infectious," said Sohl, 61.

Mr. Bates was still working until a few weeks ago, despite a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in November 2012.

He and his wife started their day at 5 a.m. with devotional readings on the love seat facing the living room window. Before long, he would be putting in his miles on the treadmill. His wife, a hospice nurse, could see the march of the disease.

"Dan may not have gotten his head wrapped around it, but I knew it," said Carol Ann Bates, 60. She monitored his food, liquids and medications. He nicknamed her the Hawk.

He spent his spare time in study with his instruments, including a Brazilian rosewood steel-string guitar and an old clarinet. Several weeks ago, he finally swapped out the screen saver on the 27-inch Apple computer monitor in the room, a cozy scene of cowboys. The new image shows the earth, an image taken from space, the planet's curvature plainly visible.

"He changed it," his wife said. "I think he was thinking about going."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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