Kate Halpin: Detective Chief Inspector, Metropolitan Police
"I suppose fact is stranger than fiction – Inspector Morse had his Jag, Gene Hunt had his Audi Quattro and DCI Jane Tennison had her hang-ups. I've got something better – my bike, and I ride it everywhere."
It still makes people look twice
As a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Kate Halpin is one of the growing band of senior women police officers in the Met. However, she still revels in being a token: the cycling detective, as opposed to the perhaps better known Singing Detective.
"It still makes people look twice, because it's just not what people envisage when they think about the senior detective at a police station. In the past, they have been mostly older men with a liking for the odd tipple. Although I'm older than I was when I joined the job in 1990, I'm neither a man nor do I drink. And if that wasn't odd enough in Met terms, my bike riding obsession usually does it. But I love it and it's a lifestyle choice for me."
Like many cyclists , Kate’s riding career started as a child, then developed as she got older and took on a paper round, and continued through her time at university. Not even her first police posting after completing basic training put her off.
"I was posted to Carter Street Police Station which is up by the Elephant, but I lived down in Welling. It was quite a ride, but I used to commute back and forth every day on my bike. Because we worked shifts, it was at all hours, and of course in all weathers. I loved it because it was a great way to unwind, an even better way to keep fit, and it was generally quicker. "
"I used to race my colleagues home, and would invariably get to the bottom of Shooters Hill before some of them who lived out that way would come past. So I'd sit and wait for them then wave and they trundled past in traffic, all stressed out from the journey home.”
But in 1994 an incident on one of her commutes resulted in a loss of confidence.
"I got seriously wiped up in Deptford. I can see it now, I was just cycling along when this idiot did an illegal right turn in front of me into Watson Street. In his statement, the driver said, 'there was a flash of lightening and she landed on my bonnet.' Flash of lightening indeed - he turned where he shouldn't have done and I ended up with a fractured collarbone, a rotator cuff tear, an injured knee and a whole lot of bruises. I was very lucky, but it really did my confidence and I felt very vulnerable for a long time, even as an experienced, competent cyclist. All because some bloke thought that the law of the road didn't apply to him."
"I still see people doing that same no right turn, just as I see cyclists everyday jumping red lights, riding on the pavement and doing no entries. These signs are there for a reason and it's really selfish to assume that it's OK to ignore them. It is not, and I suffered because of somebody else's arrogance.”
The feeling of vulnerability lasted for a while, even when she was driving a car at work. It tempered Kate’s riding.
"My job had changed a bit and by then I was on call, having to travel all over London to investigate various incidents, and I had to get there quickly, and at all hours. I didn't like being in a car much, but given my confidence loss and the need to do what I had to do, it was just one of those things. But I felt very unfit and missed that feeling of the ride home clearing my head."
She did get back on her bike after trying out some pretty spectacular cycle routes.
"I have family in southern California, and when visiting them, I decided to try riding again on the routes that follow the ocean. They are really beautiful, and it gave me the opportunity to sort myself out. I bought a bike to use there, and my family also use it. I was out riding one day when this gang of men came riding along and one shouted, 'Ma'am raise your ass or you'll bugger your knees with your saddle that low.' I'd forgotten to put it back to my riding position, and this rider seemed familiar. When I told my family that a load of blokes dressed as US Postal Teams riders had ridden by and one had shouted at me, they said 'no that was the US Postal Team' and the bloke who'd shouted was Lance Armstrong. So that restored my confidence alright, a bit of personal tuition from the man himself!"
Rejuvenated and back in London, Kate got back on her bike again.
"I felt so much better being able to cycle. I’ve never cared about the weather and I like doing long distances, so riding from Shooters Hill to work at Bexleyheath and then to Hendon and back again is no big deal. The Met is really good for providing showers and places to park your bike. I just leave a bit early to get a shower the other end, and it works out fine. If it's somewhere I haven't been before or somebody I don't know, I'll call and make sure it's OK for me to arrive by bike."
"Even so, I don't ride to see a victim or somebody who might be puzzled by it. I would not want to come across as disrespectful. But in general terms at work, cycling is well accepted. In fact, I went to see a new Commander recently, and I called her to make sure she was OK with me arriving by bike and she said, 'Listen I don't care what you wear, it's what you do that I'm interested in!'"
And it seemed that Kate’s enthusiasm has rubbed off on fellow officers.
"The Chief Superintendent at Bexleyheath started riding to work and I took him to buy his bike. Since then several others including an inspector, some PCs and a sergeant have become committed riders and now ride an annual charity ride. I suppose that's a measure of success for the cycling fraternity!"