THE credibility of next week's controversial election of a new police boss has been called into question after Exeter voters expressed a mix of apathy and confusion.
Police, politicians and even some candidates standing in the first ever crime commissioner poll for Devon and Cornwall have criticised the election – branding it "farcical" and a waste of taxpayers' money.
It comes as a senior police figure has been accused of abusing his position by sending emails urging officers to vote for his preferred candidate – a move described as "inappropriate" and which is said to have further undermined the elections.
The creation of the new posts, which will replace existing police authorities across the country, has been met with mounting opposition since the Government announced plans for the powerful new £85,000-a-year role.
The new commissioner will have responsibility for setting policing strategy and the force budget.
People living in the city say they either do not understand what the elections are about or do not care.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has complained to the Information Commissioner after Mike Bull, the outgoing chairman of the Police Authority, allegedly breached data protection rules by twice emailing officers urging them to vote for a candidate he is working with in next Thursday's election.
Mr Bull sent emails to "a number" of police officers urging them to vote for candidate Brian Greenslade – who has promised to appoint Mr Bull as one of his deputies should he be elected.
Mr Bull has defended his actions, but other candidates standing in the election have accused him of "playing games".
And Mr Bradshaw said the saga highlighted the danger of holding an election the public had "no appetite" for.
"No one really knows why these elections are happening," he told the Echo.
"There is the danger of a low turnout of voters and that someone with an axe to grind will win and they will have the power of hiring and firing over the chief constable.
"There doesn't seem to have been any vetting of the candidates – it's very scary. This is a very powerful position.
"This saga shows the dangers of holding elections for this post, which there has been very little public appetite for.
"This email from Mike Bull was given to me by an outraged police officer – he smelt a rat.
"The behaviour of the two people concerned has detracted from the elections. I haven't met a single police officer who supports these elections."
Independent candidate Ivan Jordan, of Exeter, told the Echo the incident could put people off voting in the elections.
"It's completely inappropriate – it's basically the old boy's network abusing their positions," he said.
"It must put me at a disadvantage. I think there is a chance it will put people off voting, which would be a real shame. This is a fantastic opportunity for local control as long as the right people get in.
"If someone starts playing games, it will put people off."
Labour candidate Nicky Williams, from Plymouth, told the Echo Mr Bull's actions were "irresponsible".
She said: "This has all sorts of repercussions – it breaks just about every rule in the book."
One Exeter police officer, who spoke to the Echo anonymously, said: "No one has really spoken to us about the candidates for the crime commissioner role – we don't know who the candidates are.
"The general feeling is that the role is being created so the Government can influence how the force is run.
"They are supposed to be cutting costs so how is it saving money when they are spending so much on the elections?"
A straw poll conducted by the Echo in Exeter city centre indicated voters had received little information about what the police and crime commissioner elections were about and did not understand why they were taking place.
And criticism over the elections has also come from some of those standing in the polls.
Despite standing as a candidate, Brian Greenslade has described the £80m spent on the elections as "obscene".
The Echo was unable to contact Mr Greenslade.
Mr Bull, who dismissed concerns over the emails he sent to officers as a "storm in a teacup", also criticised the new post, calling the elections "a nonsense".
"I think the whole system around these elections is flawed – it's a nonsense and I'm completely opposed to it.
"It's almost farcical – nobody wants it. It's riddled with problems and ill-thought out.
"But it's going to happen and we have to find a way of making it work."
He defended his decision to email police officers in a bid to persuade them to vote for Mr Greenslade.
"It has been suggested that I had access to a police database and was therefore breaching data protection legislation," he said. "That is absolute rubbish. I don't have any access to any police database, never had and have never wanted to.
"I emailed people in my address book – I emailed quite a number of people but I'm not going to disclose how many.
"The police officers are a very small minority of who I emailed. The email went to individual and selected people. I'm perfectly entitled to do that."
Voters have a choice of 10 candidates. Many people have already cast their vote through the postal voting system, while others will be going to polling stations across the two counties next Thursday.
William Morris, 62, from Penzance, Cornwall – Independent: “I’m an ex-farmer and was a volunteer prison visitor for a Category C jail in Swansea and secretary of the Prisoners’ Association for Swansea for 10 years.
“I will introduce zero-tolerance policing in areas where there are increasing levels of violence and anti-social behaviour. I want more restorative justice and community payback. My priority is the young and My flagship measure is to introduce a detox centre in the South West for the under 21s.”
Ivan Jordan, 39, from Exeter, Devon – Independent: “I’m an architect and farmer and do a lot of volunteering with schools.
“I believe these elections are of pivotal importance in governance. I want to focus on prevention, prevention, prevention. I want justice for all – for everyone in the community, the young, the old, the ethnic minorities, so that everyone gets a say. I want to see partnership-led community policing and no privatisation.”
Tony Hogg, 63, from Helston, Cornwall – Conservative: “I have 33 years’ experience in the Royal Navy where I retired a commodore, I have flown helicopters and captained five ships.
“I’m resolved to provide a better link with the people of Devon and Cornwall than the existing police authority.
“I want to show strong leadership at a time of enormous change for the police. I also want to raise the agenda of domestic violence, sexual violence and mental health issues. Thirdly, I recognise the enormous value the voluntary sector offer in terms of cutting crime.”
John Smith, 70, from Teignmouth, Devon – Independent: “I’m a former deputy leader of Devon County Council and a former chairman of the police authority.
“I’m very much a people person and I would like to see a police force that is designed to support people in the community – the police stem from the people.
“I’m very keen we stop reoffending and that is all to do with how people perceive themselves. I also want to support the police at the moment – it doesn’t serve us well if we have a police force that feels demoralised.”
Graham Calderwood, 67, from St Ives, Cornwall – Independent: “I have been a solicitor working with the courts and police stations for 40 years.
“I think the crime commissioner needs to be someone who knows some of the processes of the criminal justice system so they can see where improvements need to be made.
“I’m keen to speed up the process in the police stations, I also want to tackle drugs, which affect so many crimes and ruin so many families.”
Brian Blake, 65, from Yelmpton, Devon – Liberal Democrats: “I’m a former police officer with 31 years’ experience of the force. I also worked for the MoD in Europe on terrorism security and am now retired.
“My experience as a police officer would help the police. Officers see the mess created by burglaries, assaults and disorder and they also see what the victims are left behind with.
“My priorities if elected would be tackling anti-social behaviour, crime and drugs, victim support and protecting vulnerable people.”
Nicky Williams, 41, from Plymouth, Devon – Labour: “I am cabinet member for children and young people on Plymouth City Council and ward councillor for a deprived area of Plymouth.
“I pledge to oppose the police cuts and challenge the government budget, keep police on the beat by opposing creeping privatisation, tackle anti-social behaviour and aim to have non-emergency victims responded to within 24 hours, work in partnership with the voluntary sector and focus on early intervention and fifthly, I’m committed to protect the operational independence of the chief constable.”
Brian Greenslade, 63, from Barnstaple, Devon – Independent: “I am former chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, former leader of Devon County Council and current leader of North Devon Council.
“I think my experience of policing and crime issues is really quite strong and I can reasonably claim to be experienced in dealing with the police budget.
“My top priorities include making a clear commitment to continue funding our PCSOs, rebuilding the cuts in officer numbers once that is sustainable and working with voluntary sector partners.”
Tam Macpherson, from Plymouth, Devon – Independent: “I hope to lead and bring together concerned community groups to identify the causes and effects of crime in the community.
“I believe that police must connect at a local level, and the police service should not be permitted to become aligned with the priorities of a political party.
“Serious consideration should be given to establishing two separate services for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and for Devon.”
Bob Smith, from Penzance, Cornwall – UK Independence Party: “The post of commissioner should be held by a member of the community, not just a career politician.
“It is an exciting opportunity to develop an effective and transparent partnership between the police and the community.
“I support a visible, responsive police force.”