Man with machete

Casa Grande police officers speak to a man with a machete at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday July 9, 2019 at Peart Park. It was reported that the man was threatening customers at Whataburger.

On Jan. 18 a 14-year-old boy holding a toy gun was shot and killed by a Tempe police officer as he ran down an alley.

The mayor and police chief of Phoenix apologized to a family after a May 27 cellphone video showed officers cursing and pointing guns at a couple, threatening to shoot, after responding to a shoplifting report.

Four Mesa police officers were placed on administrative leave after a surveillance video showed officers using excessive force to subdue a man at an apartment complex May 23.

All three of these incidents received national media coverage, as well as extensive social media attention, causing a black eye for law enforcement in the state.

But if an incident Tuesday in Casa Grande is any indication, residents can rest easy that a similar situation may never play out in this community.

A mentally unstable man caused a disturbance at the Casa Grande Whataburger during the crowded dinner hour when he appeared to threaten people with what was originally believed to be a machete. That is the way the call went out over police dispatch. When we heard the call, the feeling in the newsroom was that this was a situation that was sure to have a tragic ending.

But it didn’t.

Instead, when police arrived they quickly discovered the man was carrying a plastic toy sword. Casa Grande Police Department spokesman Thomas Anderson said the man was upset and may have been experiencing some emotional issues.

The police on scene calmed the man down and then did something you don’t normally hear about. They drove him home.

Not much to report. But our photographer, Oscar Perez, got a picture from the scene that gave a contrasting image to the other videos and photos we have seen lately from controversial incidents involving Arizona law enforcement that have resulted in lawsuits, upset families and protests.

The photo showed the man sitting handcuffed on a park bench while Officer Tyler Miller, Sgt. Jacob Robinson and Officer Matthew Perry calmly talked with him. Robinson can be seen holding the toy sword.

No guns are drawn. The officers don’t have the suspect pinned to the ground or against a vehicle. No one is shouting curse words. No crying family members are in the background.

Some might say it is a boring photo. I say it speaks volumes.

It is refreshing with all the headlines lately involving police shootings and brutality that we can see an image of police in a civil routine manner that actually prevented a situation from getting worse.

A cynic might say police were only doing their job. But I would rather praise police when things go right than have to defend police when things go wrong.

No one is going to give these officers an award for their efforts to diffuse a volatile situation. They didn’t save a kid from drowning, or pull a pregnant woman out of a burning car. But no one was hurt and a mentally unstable person made it home safely.

It might not be called heroic, but anyone who knows what police work is like knows that this was a dangerous situation that could have easily spun out of control.

It is reassuring to know that the Casa Grande Police Department has officers who can take such a situation and make it seem routine. In doing so, they changed the narrative of a police response to “crazy man swinging sword in restaurant.” It became “emotionally upset man calmed by police and taken home.”

On behalf of a grateful community.

Thank you.

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Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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