Driving is key to my career – the force’s road policing is one of my responsibilities. But I have always had a love-hate relationship with cars.
I passed my driving test in the Army and went from a Maestro to an ancient Land Rover Defender 110, which I aimed at the road rather than drove.
My first accident came only months later when the driver of an HGV fell asleep at the wheel and drove straight into my path. That sturdy Land Rover saved my life and that of my colleague, but my Sergeant Major was ready to string me up when he saw us limping home in the vehicle. He took some convincing that the accident hadn’t been our fault.
My next unfortunate experience was as a young police officer, I was stationed at West Bar in Sheffield city centre and had various foot-beats (you knew you had made it as senior foot officer when you got Fargate and The Moor as your beat).
The job often involved wrestling with shoplifters, picking up street drinkers and rescuing the occasional naked groom from the fountain on Fargate (what more could a girl want?)
I wanted to take a police driving course so much. If I passed I could then pick and choose the best jobs, and drive up to on-the-beat probationers on cold winter nightshifts and roll down my can window one inch to check that they were still breathing, or only had minor hypothermia.
As I walked the beat and yearned for that elusive course some of my driver colleagues would take pity on me and pick me up in their squad car occasionally.
I should have learnt the first time when one of my fellow officers asked me to accompany him to a burglary.
While we were in the house consoling the victim, we smelt burning.
Having established no one was charring toast in the kitchen, we extended our investigation outside – to find our lovely new Vauxhall Astra police car was on fire. The local kids were using it as a bonfire.
Another time, I was the passenger in a police car driving through a complex of flats when we heard an almighty bang on the roof. Imagine our surprise to find a television balancing precariously on our car!
The owner of said TV didn’t want to watch Coronation Street, but his partner did. And as he chucked it off their balcony his timing had been impeccable.
The last time I was an eager squad car passenger, my friend was the driver. We were searching for a stolen car which had been spotted in a local estate. Unbeknown to us our inspector was also out looking for it – on our force’s little 500cc Kawasaki bike.
Suddenly I spotted him riding at the side of our car. Before I could shout “Mind the boss”, our illustrious leader’s face was squashed against the offside front window. As my friend slammed on the brakes I saw the poor man sliding down the side of our car.
It may have been the shock of the situation, or that I had quickly realised the collision wasn’t as serious as it looked, but I couldn’t stop laughing. And when my friend shouted, “Caroline, I’ve killed the gaffer” I laughed so much I nearly wet myself. The inspector was fine and I composed myself enough to brush him down and pick his bike up, by the way.
I eventually passed my police-driving course and though I wasn’t the fastest driver, I always got there and back with my car and me in one piece.
I did once have the slowest pursuit ever. I was chasing a Ford Escort in my Peugeot 309 around Sheffield; The top speed ever reached was 20mph. Eventually the 13-year-old driver abandoned the car and got out to run away. But he’d forgotten that he had tied blocks of wood to his shoes so he could reach the pedals. He practically fell into my arms.
Perhaps it’s understandable that I’m no petrol head. My husband, on the other hand, is. He’s a traffic cop and races supercars in his spare time. My son has caught the bug too, so I have to fake interest and watch Top Gear every Sunday evening.
However, I do love my Mini Cooper. It almost makes driving pleasurable.
n Supt Rollitt is chair of South Yorkshire Police Women’s Network, which runs a mentoring program enabling women to realise their potential. To celebrate International Women’s Day and a century of women in policing, the Network is hosting a fundraising evening in aid of Cavendish Cancer Care.