When Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills presented a commendation Monday morning to an alert coffee shop customer who sprang into action last December, it wasn’t just any customer: Pete Rode retired from the very force Mills now oversees in 2007 after 28 years of service.
Standing outside the Starbucks Reserve downtown, Mills honored Rode for bravery and valor for his actions on Dec. 13, explaining that he was simply enjoying coffee inside the store with friends when he noticed a man outside waving what appeared to be a handgun at customers. Rode and Starbucks employee Sheila Jove didn’t hesitate to take action. While Rode ran outside and knocked the gun out of the man’s hands, Jove locked the store down and kept customers calm. Rode then kept an eye on the man until Palm Springs officers arrived. He stood nearby as they eventually wrestled him to the ground.
Police later identified the man as a parolee who was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of the incident. The gun turned out to be a BB gun, but at the time, Rode and others couldn’t tell if it wasn’t a more lethal weapon.
The 31-year-old suspect is currently in custody on an unrelated assault with a deadly weapon charge, having been re-arrested in Palm Desert in March.
“His split-second decision, taken at great personal risk, prevented fear and panic and possibly violence,” Mills said Monday of Rode. “He used minimal force and was able to avoid what could have been a tragic end.”
Rode has been off the beat for 15 years but said his instincts never left, adding that he didn’t even think before acting last December — years of training and decades on the force kicked in. “He wasn’t responding to any of the verbal commands I was giving him,” recalled Rode. “I didn’t even think. The training was just bred into me.”
Rode said that while he wasn’t surprised at his actions, it was a different story for his friends. After he took down the suspect, he said those he was having coffee with started looking at him differently.
“None of them were police officers,” said Rode. “They were quite surprised.”
For Mills, seeing the dedication that even retired officers have to the city speaks volumes about the department he now leads.
“There’s a lot of people here who’ve left an amazing legacy of service,” Mills said. “This is just a prime example of somebody who really loves this community and served this community well for so many years and is still here getting coffee almost every day and ready to spring into action.”
During the commendation, Mills emphasized the need for more mental health care for parolees. According to a 2017 Department of Justice report, 44% of jail inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“This incident highlights the importance of ensuring those released from prison have adequate care,” said the chief. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of parolees coming out of prison without that support.
“When the mental health institutes were de-institutionalized, so many people wound up on the streets. You can see the population of inmates with mental health issues increase in prisons and jails after that.”
Rode said he was happy to do what he could to serve the community, even as a private citizen.
“I’ve been here 50 years,” he said. “I love the department; I love the city.”