Police officers from Pine Bluff and across the state came together Monday to say goodbye to one of their own, Lt. JoAnn Bates, six days after she took her own life.
Bates, a 21-year veteran of the Pine Bluff Police Department, was found dead April 30 at her home in Redfield.
Deputy Chief Susie Powell, who was a close friend of Bates, said Bates had once asked her about her feelings about suicide.
“We’ve got to deal with that word, which most people think is taboo, because that’s why we’re here,” Powell said.
The Rev. Gary Bell, senior pastor at First Assembly of God Church, where the service was held, also talked about suicide, because he said he had been asked to.
Bell said the Bible has a lot to say about a person taking their own life, and while some believe that the act is an unpardonable sin, every person is responsible for their own life.
“Don’t judge a person’s life by what they do,” Bell said. “It’s up to God to judge.”
Speaking to the family and many friends of Bates, Bell said it’s important to focus not on a life that has ended, but rather celebrate the life that was given
“Live life every day as if it were your last because one day, it will be,” he said.
Bates, who was 45, joined the police department on Feb. 20, 1992, and had worked in the patrol division, detective division and narcotics before being assigned to the Office of Professional Standards and as a public information officer. She was promoted to sergeant on March 8, 2003, and lieutenant on March 30, 2012.
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said some people are angry about Bates’ death, while others want to know how it could have happened, and how could it have been avoided.
“Sometimes things happen that we can’t comprehend,” Hollingsworth said. “We’ve all felt the sting of death and it reminds us daily about how fragile life is.”
Saying that Bates had a “servant’s heart,” Hollingsworth encouraged the crowd, which included almost every member of the Pine Bluff Police Department, to “Pick up the torch and continue serving.”
Fighting back tears, an emotional Lt. Joe Paul Harrell, who worked with Bates when both were assigned to the narcotics division, described her as “one of the most lovable people I’ve ever known.
“I’m not going to say goodbye,” Harrell said. “I’m going to say I’ll see you later in Heaven. I love you, JoAnn.”
The Rev. Johnny Smith, who has served as a police department chaplain, described the police department as a “unique family who shares their lives with one another,” and reminded the officers that they “have God to share their burdens they must share with one another.”
When her time to speak came, Powell said it’s important to see that Bates’ death was not in vain, telling other officers that if they have problems, or feel as if things can’t get any better, to get help.
“Remember how JoAnn’s death made us feel,” Powell said. “What JoAnn did was to take a temporary problem and make a permanent solution.”
In addition, Powell said Bates’ judgment “was clouded by the pain medication she was on. She tried to be her own doctor.
“My brothers and sisters in blue, don’t let this be something bad,” Powell said. “We’ve been through enough in the past few years and we will get through this.”
Speaking to Bates’ family, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said “this is a sad, sad day and on behalf of the police department, we wishl the family will find peace.
“We loved, liked, and respected JoAnn and we mourn her passing,” Hubanks said.
After Bates’ death, Hubanks arranged for counselors to be available for department members who wanted to talk to them, and Hubanks said many of the officers did.
Bates was buried in Hunter Hill Cemetery at Clinton on Monday afternoon with members of the department’s SWAT team serving as pallbearers.