A spate of violent crimes in parks across the country has made it easy for hysteria to grip a nation which might assume that green spaces have become virtual no-go areas filled with knife-wielding gangs. But for most who work in parks the reality is far different and it is a battle to keep public perception from escalating out of control.
Recently appointed Royal Parks Operational Command Unit police commander Derek Pollock is quick to dispel the myths. "Public perception is that violent crimes happen a great deal more than they do," he says. "In fact, my 83-year-old mum is now too frightened to go for a walk but the level of crime where we live in Essex is virtually nil."
It is no secret that there is crime in parks, but the Royal Parks are particularly fortunate in that members of the public benefit from the watchful eyes of a dedicated team of officers.
Although the Royal Parks Constabulary, a force in its own right, was merged with the Metropolitan Police in 2004, providing a high level of police visibility is still one of its highest priorities.
"When parks are used by local hooligans and contain graffiti and burned out cars then people won't feel very safe," says Pollock. "But when they are well kept and there is visible park-keeping as well as policing then people feel safe."
For Pollock, developing strong relationships with the Royal Parks staff who work across a total of 2,428ha of green space is key to the police's success. "The people who work in the parks are our eyes and ears and we try to foster a close relationship with parks managers and staff," he says.
"I think when the Royal Parks Constabulary first merged with the Metropolitan Police there was a bit of suspicion as to what we would do but we are building ever-stronger relationships."
Although Pollock is now based at the Old Police House in Hyde Park, he has worked across many of the Royal Parks and says that each has its challenges, often quite different from those facing the surrounding neighbourhoods.
"Policing open spaces is very different because you haven't got a resident population," he says. "In a park, people are coming to enjoy themselves and the conflicts often arise when one person's enjoyment is another's annoyance.
"One of the first jobs I got sent to was a stabbing in Kensington Gardens - a dispute about dogs," he says. "People get very intense over their open spaces."
The trend for large-scale water fights in parks, organised through social networking sites, has become a particular bugbear for Pollock. Although it might appear to be an innocent summer holiday get-together for young people, Pollock explains such events can attract criminals and can easily get out of hand.
"The idea is a good one but when you have a mass of 300 people it causes all sorts of problems," he says.
"Criminals attach themselves to the mass and we have had to crack down. I had about 50 police involved with one of the water fights and we arrested nine people at another event."
But Pollock is probably ideally placed to deal with such activities. He has a track record of policing mass events and was heavily involved with the Princess of Wales' funeral procession in 1997. "It was so intense I didn't go home for 10 days; I slept on the floor of the office," he says. "The public outpouring of grief was unprecedented so we had to keep changing the routes. The Royal Parks are a big part of all those major ceremonies, particularly St James's Park."
Increased concerns over security generally have meant policing Royal Parks has become more hi-tech. Officers work with councils to bring in devices such as knife arches to tackle specific issues.
"We do regular checks in the parks and we have recovered weapons such as metal bars and golf clubs from Greenwich Park," says Pollock. "The parks are very safe though and a lot of the work we do is because we are worried that issues will be displaced into the park from surrounding areas."
Despite having notched up almost 35 years in policing, Pollock is still raring to catch criminals. "We've got the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend," he explains. "There's an element of crime that comes along with it and we need to get to those criminal gangs ahead of carnival and stop it happening."
1974: Completed police training at Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire; joined Essex Police
1975: Joined Royal Parks Constabulary, posted to Kensington Gardens and St James's Park
1983: Took over operations office
1992: Transferred to unit command at Greenwich, then to St James's Park
1994-1998: Returned to run the operations office
2002: Promoted to superintendent and represented Royal Parks Constabulary as part of the merger project with the Metropolitan Police
2004: Became head of operations at the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit
2008: Promoted to commander at the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit.