OXFORD — Two cars appeared to race around the track at Oxford Plains Speedway on a brisk sunny morning, their tires squealing, their engines revving.
But this was no race. It wasn't sport.
These were not race cars. They were cruisers, and they were driven by police officers.
What they were doing wasn't entertainment. It was deadly serious.
For the third straight year, Auburn police maneuvered their black-and-whites through a forest of orange traffic cones. One was in pursuit, its blue lights flashing, its siren screaming. The lead car was driven by a mock perpetrator wanted for double homicide. The officer in training drove the pursuit car while an instructor sat in the passenger seat. Another instructor drove the lead car.
Auburn officers spent the past week polishing their skills and working on car-handling technique, learning when to tap the brakes and gauging how much distance to keep between their cruisers and the vehicle carrying the suspect in a violent felony in front of them.
Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen stood in the speedway's so-called tower, otherwise occupied during real races by somebody waving flags at the racers.
Moen held a radio to his ear, then watched two cruisers weave through the cones, then spin and double-back while negotiating the slalom course of cones.
His job was to oversee the training and measure the performance of the officers. Training on the track once a year, thanks to the owners of Oxford Plains Speedway, allows officers to put into practice the techniques they were taught at the police academy.
The cruisers are stripped down so that equipment doesn't get tossed around, Moen said. Old tires from street cruisers are put back on the rims to save on wear and tear, helping to make the program cost effective.
The only damage the cruisers sustain is the marks made when a cruiser's fender brushes a traffic cone, but those are easily buffed out, Moen said.
The goal of the training is to instill in his officers a comfort level while driving their cruisers under most possible scenarios.
“What we do is we train them to win,” Moen said. “When they leave here they've got confidence in their skills and their abilities to be able to operate a vehicle safely.”
Officers also learn about when to take up pursuit of a vehicle. The department has a strict policy about that, Moen said.
“A chase is very dangerous,” he said. “The officer is merely reacting to wherever that suspect's going to go” and has no way of controlling the route or obstacles they may encounter.
“You see officers, you see suspects, you see civilians killed every year with police pursuits.”
The department doesn't allow for cruisers to ram other cars or force them off the road. Instead, officers are taught how to deploy spikes that are put in the roadway designed to disable a car.
“The spike mats are very safe,” he said. They're probably one of the safest ways to end a chase short of the suspect stopping on their own.”