North Coast courts get new security amidst terror fears

GROWING fear of terrorist attacks has prompted the New South Wales Government to extend the contracts of three new sheriff's officers overseeing security at the Lismore Court House.

Despite having a job title that invokes images of the Wild West, modern-day Australian sheriff's officers are far removed from the gun-slinging Wyatt Earp types who sported gold-star badges and walked with bowlegged limps.

They are the in-court employees who oversee security and use capsicum spray and batons if necessary, rather than a shiny six-shooter.

Three new sheriff's officers were added to Lismore Court House's retinue late last year as part of the government's counter-terrorism strategy.

Now an extra $5.2 million funding has ensured they and 37 others across the state have had their contracts extended by another year.

Coffs Harbour Court House has also been funded to keep an extra three sheriff's officers on the payroll.

The officers' further responsibilities include delivering witnesses to the witness box, handing evidence and exhibits from prosecutors and lawyers to the judge and ensuring the onlooking public obeys the judge's rules in the courtroom.

They conduct routine scans of people entering court facilities and have the power to confiscate weapons and other dangerous items to ensure a safe environment.

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton's office would not say whether specific threats had been made against any courts on the North Coast.

"Sheriff's officers play a vital role in strengthening security at major courthouses across the state, and this funding will ensure they can continue their important work," Ms Upton said.

"The 40 sheriff's officers work closely with police to address any possible threats against the courts.

"They receive specialist training to ensure they have the skills to handle any security issues that occur within the court complex."

The Sheriff's Office received more than 700 applications for the state's 40 jobs last year.

New recruits undergo seven weeks of rigorous training to learn hand-to-hand fighting and how to properly escort people from courts.

And while they are currently not armed with guns, that may not always be the case.

Officers began lobbying for firearms and Taser training after 15-year-old terrorist Farhad Jabar shot and killed unarmed police accountant Curtis Cheng outside the NSW Police Parramatta headquarters in October.

Police officers have been allowed to carry guns in court since August last year. -ARM NEWSDESK

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