Thursday, 13 November 2008

Steve's Room

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?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This brought a tear to my eye :-(

Blue Eyes said...

Cameras in custody suites do serve a purpose, but I am very surprised they are left running in mothballed areas. Yet another small step in the abolition of discretion and personal responsibility. Of course you can't have a situation where any homeless person gets to kip on the station floor, but that isn't what happened so where's the problem? Yet another (small) barrier built between the police and "the public".

Anonymous said...

We had a similar gent at our nick, also Met, who for years used to stand in the covered area of our rear yard for shelter. He told us it was the only place he ever felt safe. The regular Officers bought him tea and sandwiches and he was very much regarded as part of the furniture. All this changed when the new Chief Super found him one morning and in disgust banned him from the nick. We continued for a while but the threat of discipline put an end to it.

Anonymous said...

Yes well anon's new chief super had obvioulsy googled the distance fleas can jump, and was unwilling to risk passing them up the chain when brown-nosing, after all a quick scratch behind the ear is one thing, but the thought of big chief doing the italian juggling at NSY is quite another.
Apologies to any readers of italian extraction, couldn't think of a different metaphor!j

Farfromok said...

This is a good example of all that is wrong with "big" organisations these days. Unfortunately the only people with any sense are those people who have to do all the work and have no discretion at all. I'd like to think that the people that made this poor sod sleep outside will be homeless themselves one day and need help but life isn't that fair is it.

Thanks for a thoughtful post, it brought a tear to my eye.

Lola Snow said...

This is very sad, it seems that any employee of a public sector organisation cannot be allowed to make judgements based on common sense.

However, just on the other side of the arguement, you ARE damned if you do and damned if you don't. Consider the consequences if Steve had died in a disused cell (ie from a heart attack) whilst staying on an informal arrangement? When the story hit the press, who would be the bad guys?

So I can see where the legislation comes from, but it remains a tragedy. A potentially avoidable death, is always a tragedy.

Lola

Seems as always I'm quite happy to blame the media!!! Or perhaps the government for not better addressing the needs of the homeless? oooh contentious!

Vetnurse said...

I agree it was very sad, and the new way of doing things is often not the best way. All to often peoplke are stopped from thinking.

Like l said before The rule book is for the guidence of wise men and the obedience of fools.

Louise said...

A lovely story about the good in human nature and how people in 'th job' would like to be able to use it.

A story about how policies, standards and fear of reprisals is crushing this good nature out of the people working in the service

Kenny O said...

Wow, thats a good story...He must have been a good guy for those officers to allow him to sleep there, not many homless guys would get that chance...
Sad way for him to leave this world..I hope it was peaceful

Anonymous said...

That brought a tear to my eye too. What a bloody shame.

Tony F

Rae!xx said...

What a lovely story Area and what a shame that risk assessments and health and safety have now put paid to human kindness...xx

PC Plastic Fuzz said...

I knew a guy once who was one of the rare kind. He was a really decent drunk. A dimond bloke. Found him in a bush, dead, in the end.

loveinvienna said...

Lot of melancholy posts around in blogs at the moment :( Made me feel very sad, poor old gent. Hope his passing was peaceful.

Liv xxx

Anonymous said...

You murdering bastard

blueknight said...

In no particular order, -
We never let anyone sleep in the cells, but we did let people sleep on the bench in the public enquiry counter and if it was cold and the customer was not too verminous he could expect a blanket.
There is a possibly true story that the 'customer' who wanted to spend the night on the bench at one police station was an attractive woman who, having had some sort of argument with her boyfriend, was naked apart from an overcoat. She was game for a laugh and without much persuasion arranged to 'flash' the first PC who came in for early turn.This did indeed happen, but the PC was so tired and bleary eyed, (05.45 hrs start in those days) that he did not realise what had happened until about 11 am.
At one police station the found dog kennel was freezing cold and had no light, consequently we used to let the found dogs have the run of the front office. The police station was shut and we all got called out. When we got back we found the dog,a crossbreed staff had chewed up a chair and wee'd on the floor. It didn't deter us. After that if we all had to leave we would take the dog with us in the van.

TheBinarySurfer said...

I think you should take solace from the fact that you (collectively) did what you could for him, as long as you could do it.

In this world, with the blame culture pervading the country at large, and especially the public and emergency services, you can't ask for more than that.

joker1972 said...

Common sense is not common as a good friend of my would say. Steve was doing no one any harm.We should not forget that he was a human being after all.

Kate said...

I don't work in law enforcement, yet I knew that sometimes ya'll face issues like this. It's sad, but please don't beat yourself up over it; the fact that you shared this means you've internalized it...but don't let it eat at you. You're obviously a kind and decent man.

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BenefitScroungingScum said...

This post was so touching. Despite his eventual banning, it is heartwarming to hear of so many small acts of kindness.
Bendy Girl

PC Plastic Fuzz said...

Sent you an email.

Chris said...

First read this on my mobile internet, and made a note to come back and comment. I promptly forgot, and have only just remembered. Of course by now, everyone's already said what I wanted to say, but I just want to agree that this is crazy.

They were scared of him getting ill or even dying in there, but they would rather increase the chance of it happening somewhere by decreasing the chance of it happening on their turf.

How sad it is that beaurocracy, having already removed everyone's ability to use discretion and (un)common sense, is now moving onto the destruction of compassion.

Mark said...

I'm sorry, Area. This is the bitter version of Lawdog's Mr. Johnson tale.

If cops like you had as much say in the way things were run as the MPs and the judges, I wouldn't be buying my ticket out of the UK.

You're a good sort. I hope the system changes, not just for your sake but for all the UK's sake.

Sage said...

How sad that sometimes the old way of life has gone, when charity could be got by the back door kindness of turning a blind eye... Poor Steve...

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