Alumni Spotlight-Chris Bates

August 2017

Chris Bates '08 leads and protects while he serves

Christopher (Chris) Bates started out as a music major at Lamar University and left with a bachelor degree in General Studies in 2008 shortly after graduating from the police academy. He became the youngest person, the first African American, and the first Jefferson County official to receive the Constable of the Year Award for the State of Texas at the 73rd Annual Justice of the Peace and Constables Association Conference.

Bates was attending a football game with friends when they met a police officer who he asked about his job. After the officer explained the duties and benefits of the job, Bates' friends decided to register for an upcoming exam and try to pursue a career in criminal justice.

"They were my best friends, and since they were doing it, I was going to do it with them. So we signed up for the test, and sure enough I passed the written portion and the physical portion. I filled everything out. Then I got an offer for a job with the Port Arthur Police Department, but first I had to go to LIT to go through the Police Academy there. Out of the three of us, I was the only one who got that final meeting with the Chief," Bates said.

Bates had completed most of his education and was determined to graduate with a bachelor's degree, despite having a job lined up for him. He took online classes while attending the Police Academy from 8am-5pm all week, and he graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies immediately after graduating from the Police Academy at Lamar Institute of Technology.

Though he was immediately able to begin a job, Bates did not have a smooth start to his career. Due to budget cuts and changes in supervision, he found himself having to look for a new position more than once. "I got on with the Constable's office, where my main duty there was to enforce truancy laws in Port Arthur ISD, and I got an understanding of that and of the Constable's duties. Unfortunately, after about a year and a half working there, some budget cuts got in the way of the Deputy Constable job, so my position was cut. I got a job with PAISD's Police Department when I found out I had to be laid off. It was stressful and frustrating at the time. My oldest daughter was only 6 months old, and I had a family to take care of. I took the job with PAISD, and after 2 years of working there, new leadership decided to go in a different direction and didn't want a Police Department. So once again, I was in the position of looking for another job. My second daughter was born in 2011, and at the end of the year, this decision was made, and I had to think about how I was going to provide for my family. One day, I sat down to think about longevity - about how I was going to take care of my family instead of being in a position of looking for different jobs again," Bates said.

Bates had always been interested in politics and wanted to hold some sort of public office. He never imagined himself as a Constable, but his search for a more permanent job led him to the office. "I always thought [my office] would be through City Council, but then the Constable announced that he was retiring and his position was open. After lots of prayer, talking to my mom about it, talking it over with my family, I decided to run. I filed for office and started campaigning like a crazy man...I was elected and sworn in at 27 years old. A little research showed that I was the youngest Constable in Texas, and that I was the second youngest in the state's history, after a man in the early 1900s who was sworn in at age 21. I was also the first African American Constable to be elected from Precinct 2," Bates said.

Since taking office in early 2013, Bates has become more involved than ever in the community. He engages youth through public speaking at youth empowerment and leadership conferences and is a minister of music at his church; he adopted a highway through TxDOT and has encouraged other officials to do the same; he is on the advisory board for the Salvation Army, where he started an annual 'Christmas with the Constable' food and toy drive; he created a scholarship for local youth who want to pursue a career in criminal justice; and he volunteers to mentor criminal justice students.

"I'm blessed to have people who trust me and believe in me enough to let me be in this position, to do the great things I've been able to do with the position since 2013. There are a lot of things going on in the law enforcement area right now - you can see it in the media. I want to encourage students to see law enforcement in a positive light, to help them financially with the $500 scholarship, and to mentor them to be a positive and productive leader in the community," Bates said.

Bates set three new records when he received Constable of the Year for the State of Texas, but he said he was not aiming to break records or get recognition for his efforts. "I'm blessed that the Association and the committee chose me. For them to choose me to be Constable of the Year in only my 5th year - it's humbling. I'm proud to be chosen based on my work in the Association and in the community. It's a blessing. I didn't ask to be the first for those things. I just want people to see that I could do this because I kept the promises I made them when I was sworn in to serve. I also think it shows positive change toward diversity in the Association and in the community here, especially after Zena Stephens's election for Jefferson County Sheriff. I think it shows change and in a good way," Bates said.

Though the Police Academy led Bates to his career as a Constable, his ties to Lamar University are stronger than ever. He will begin serving as the Lamar University Alumni Advisory Board President-Elect on September 1st. "I love Lamar University. In high school, kids wanted to get out of the city for college, to get away from where their parents live, and I can't say that I wasn't the same way. But the financial aspect of going to Lamar University and staying close to home was appealing. I got a scholarship in the music department, so it was really the obvious thing to do to help my family. Once I stepped foot on campus, I felt the community. LU gave me a community, and it started my education. Being asked to serve on the alumni advisory board was a no brainer. I want to give advice and help people, especially students who are in the place I was in not too long ago. I'm blessed, thankful, and grateful to be elected President-Elect of the board, and I can't wait to serve Lamar University and continuing encouraging students to go to LU," Bates said.

Bates said it is important for alumni to maintain their ties to their alma mater, for themselves and for the University. "It's very important for alumni to stay in touch with Lamar University and also to help grow it. Think and look back at how you enjoyed your time at LU. Help other people enjoy it too! Come to the physical events. Lots of people graciously give back financially. We have a lot of generous alumni support, and that's awesome. I encourage people to continue to give back, to continue to be ambassadors for Lamar University," Bates said.

Bates continues his involvement at Lamar University by not only serving on the Alumni Advisory Board, but by being involved as a mentor to collegiate members of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and serving on the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Search Committee.

Bates has many things to be proud of, but he is most proud of the fact that he has not changed after taking a public office and receiving so much attention for his service to the community. "What I'm most proud of is the fact that out of all the recognition for this (awards, office recognition), I've been able to remain a humble person, someone who hasn't forgotten where came from. Ten years ago, I was working two jobs to pay for college. I am that same person today. I haven't lost it. I'm also proud that I've kept my promised that I made to the people when I was sworn in. I'm blessed for my awards and recognition, but I'm just happy that I've been able to make a difference and help people. I'm not here for recognition. I'm here to help people. I'm thankful to my friends and family and to the City of Port Arthur. I was born and raised here, and the community has always been here for me. And I can't forget that I'm thankful for my two lovely daughters. Everyday I thank them for being Daddy's sweethearts," Bates said.


Interview by: Kaylie Smith, Public Relations Intern, LU Office of Alumni Affairs