Our Division, like all in the Met, used to have a custody area with cells in every nick.
Now, like most Boroughs, we have one full time custody area, one that is used for very occasional operations/building work/overflow for other Boroughs/Safeguard Operations, and then a couple that are locked up and the cells used for nothing more than storing old bicycles, confidential waste, pigeon nests and shady cigarette breaks.
"Steve" knew this.
Steve had spent some of his youth fighting, and had been in the cells back in the day. He liked to tell us he'd been in the cells in every nick in the local Borough, at some point in his past.
He'd then joined the army and 'made good.' Unfortunately, on demob things went wrong for Steve, and although he never went his old path of fighting in the street, Steve became a sad, sad sight. Bedraggled, homeless, and often drunk - he's been on the streets longer than some coppers have been alive.
In fact, some coppers have joined the job, worked their thirty, and retired, and Steve has still been there. I've no doubt that a few coppers on their retirement bunged him a few quid.
No trouble, and no convictions since before joining the army. A perfect Gent, albeit a smelly drunken one.
As I said, Steve knew about our spare custody.
Station Officers throughout the years have been woken up on a winter's night, from an 0100 hours day dream to find the spectacle of Steve in the front office, usually clutching a gift of some sort. Yesterday's paper was a favourite.
Experienced officers knew him, knew to simply open the door and usher him into the spare custody area, where he'd crawl up in a ball after thanking the officer profusely, and settle down to a long and well deserved sleep in the warm.
The early turn officer would be briefed and would shake him awake with a cuppa soup, and offer him a shower. Steve would repay the kindness by cleaning up anything he could, and cleaning the tea club mugs.
An impressive and well received gesture, especially well received by the probationer currently running the tea club.
As far as I can tell, Steve never mentioned his hidey hole to his fellow homeless people, most of whom he seemed to treat with a dismissive attitude. For him, they were there because they'd failed. He'd made a lifestyle choice.
Of course, as CCTV throughout the cells became more prevalant, eventually even the spare custody area got some. As did the station office area. Steve got older, and suddenly the idea of taking an alcoholic elderly man into the cell area unsupervised on a semi regular basis became unattractive.
The relief Inspectors made the difficult decision, and two or three years ago Steve was thenceforth barred from the nick.
I am glad to this day I was not the station officer on duty who had to tell him; I think it would have been heartbreaking to see his hopeful face clutching an out of date newspaper, changing to confusion as the news sunk in.
This time last year, Steve was found lying in a doorway by the Ambulance Service, on a bitter November night. The ambos were on the way back from a job, and recognised the huddled shape so stopped to say 'Hello.'
Of course, as I'm sure you've guessed, on their approach they realised that there was no point in saying hello.
Later, I turned up to say Goodbye, as did most of the patrols on duty. For many of us, Steve was the first experience we'd had as probationers of the local drunks, always willing, and regularly used as an experience of searching people you may not want to search.
Steve outlived a homeless person's life expectancy, and no one would have betted on him getting a telegram from the Queen, but that didn't stop a few of us on our relief (and I'm guessing in all the other teams) sitting round and wondering if he'd have been alive if he hadn't been barred from our nick.
Who exactly was helped by our Risk Averse policy?