Drug dealers. Crack houses. Doesn’t sound very Twickenham. But under the placid and in many places prosperous surface of our local community these are some uncomfortable realities.

I witnessed this during last Friday when the local police invited me to accompany them on a routine visit to one of the estates in the north of Twickenham.

There was the boarded up house whose previous occupant has been shot, through the letterbox, by a member of a rival gang. There was the mentally ill, ‘vulnerable’, man who refused to open the door, but who was known to the police to be exploited by drug dealers who used his flat for their business. There was another man who looked twice his real age, a heroin addict, whose face sported a scar from a knife incident with a dealer imposing ‘discipline’ on his clients. And, then, a suspicious looking individual who scuttled off when he saw our police van but was tracked down by the police team to his home, full of needles and other evidence of drug related activity.

The local police were very impressive in action and not just for my benefit. They knew the patch intimately and also knew everyone who was caught up in the drugs business as user or dealer, or often, both. They managed to be firm but courteous towards both the inadequates in front of them and the general public.

The experience challenged many of my stereotypes. Middle aged men, rather than teenagers, were mainly involved (though some young people obviously have their own drug habits). The action was not in the dead of night, but in the middle of the day. And the borderline between villain and victim was often difficult to define.

I defend the police from the too often lazy criticisms thrown at them on so many occasions. They are highly professional and hard working, but struggling with inadequate resources – now more than ever. Yet at the same time the management of police time (over what they can control) is much better than it used to be . And, these days, they are much more diverse – in gender and ethnic background – than most other professions, including it must be said politicians.

Unfortunately in addition to budget challenges the police are spending much of their time dealing with problems created by failures of wider policies: such as antisocial behaviour caused by mentally ill people who sadly receive inadequate care and support they need from other agencies; or the scourge of drugs caused in part by the reluctance of the political class to act on good advice on the limits of criminal sanctions, as it might prove unpopular.

Understanding in full the challenges facing our police service and ensuring they can effectively make our borough safer for everyone is certainly a big issue for 2018 and beyond.

Sir Vince Cable

MP for Twickenham