End in sight for police court duties

LAUNCESTON police officers are expected to be freed up from some of their Magistrates Court duties within a fortnight, Northern District Commander Richard Cowling said yesterday.

The state government is expected to announce early this week that from December 1 officers will no longer be required to transport and guard prisoners when they appear in the Magistrates Court, freeing them up for operational duties.

It will be a big win after years of criticism over police resources being tied up in court.

Former premier David Bartlett had promised police would be removed from court duties in the North and North-West during the 2010 election.

Hobart officers don't perform these duties, with the Justice Department responsible for prisoner transport and guarding.

Commander Cowling said that in peak periods six or eight officers could be tied up between the lower court and the Supreme Court.

``This then means we can remove those police to operational duties where required,'' Commander Cowling said.

``With the reduction in staffing numbers, anything that moves towards that is a good thing.

``Our discussions are continuing and we expect to make an announcement early next week.''

Commander Cowling said he hoped this would eventually extend to police being released from similar Supreme Court duties.

Police Association of Tasmania president Randolph Wierenga yesterday welcomed the news.

``It's a very welcome move for our members and the public in Northern Tasmania,'' Sergeant Wierenga said.

``It will release a number of police officers to go about their normal duties rather than babysitting criminals.

``It's long overdue and it will be the first bit of good news we've had from this government in a long time.

``We've been lobbying the government for a considerable amount of time to have this matter resolved and it appears now persistence has paid off.''

Police Minister David O'Byrne said he was ``hopeful of making a positive announcement in the near future''.

``Wherever possible, we want to help free-up police officers for frontline duties, while keeping effective and professional security in our courts,'' Mr O'Byrne said.

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