It was the sort of situation to make a police officer’s mouth go dry.
A reckless driver speeding through residential neighborhoods and repeatedly refusing to heed officer’s commands.
There are multiple possible outcomes in this scenario — few of them good.
Yet a potential tragedy was averted in Baker City late Sunday afternoon, quite possibly because Baker City Police were judicious in their pursuit of the suspect, Brian Heredia, 28, of Boise.
The episode reminds us that sometimes police are wise to avoid a high-speed chase, and that deciding not to follow a driver does not equate to “letting him get away.”
Police arrested him about 5:24 p.m., just seven minutes or so after a citizen alerted officers to the black Infiniti with California license plates.
The description matched a report that Oregon State Police had received not long before about a car on Interstate 84 and heading toward Baker City.
Baker City Police first tried to stop the car at Campbell and Main. Heredia instead drove north on Main and then turned left onto First Street. This is a residential area with many uncontrolled intersections.
The officer in pursuit decided not to continue chasing the car, a decision which, even without the benefit of hindsight, seems sensible.
A couple minutes later a second officer saw the Infiniti parked near Grandview Drive and N. Second St. Heredia refused to get out of the car and again sped off. This officer, too, declined to chase the suspect.
However, police continued to receive reports from residents who had seen the car — including one witness who saw the Infiniti speeding south on 10th Street near Broadway.
Officer Coleton Smith heard that report and soon after found Heredia in the car on Jackson Street, just south of Broadway. Smith and a second officer arrested Heredia, who was charged with reckless driving, reckless endangering and attempting to elude.
We understand that by deciding not to continue chasing Heredia, police risked allowing him to get away with a few crimes, most likely misdemeanors, that didn’t hurt anybody.
But we think that risk is minor compared with the very real possibility, considering the areas through which Heredia drove, that he would have hit an innocent driver, bicyclist or pedestrian. That threat almost certainly would not have been lessened had a police car been following him.
Moreover, police had the license plate of the car Heredia was driving, so even if he had fled Baker City there’s a decent chance he would have been arrested anyway.
Obviously police sometimes need to give pursuit. But sometimes, as Sunday’s incident illustrates, patience is both the safer, and wiser, course.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.