The Met is considering increasing its ranks of armed officers amid growing concerns over police being targeted by armed criminals.

Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens has ordered an urgent review of the arming of officers after the Met Federation highlighted fears over the threat posed by gun-toting criminals.

These fears have grown since an incident on Leytonstone High Road in January, when a police van with officers sitting inside was hit with bullets from an automatic weapon.

"Officers are on the streets night and day trying to make the capital a safer place for us all and it is absolutely right that we listen to their concerns," Sir John said.

Whilst the Met was targeting the most serious incidents involving the use of guns, there was concern about how easy it had become for criminals to get guns, he said.

In the first three months of 2003, Met officers required armed support at 487 callouts, while this figure has risen to 583 for the first three months of this year a 16 per cent increase.

"We do not want to see every police officer being routinely armed, but if we have to increase the number of officers trained to use guns in order to make London safer then we will not hesitate to do so," said Sir John.

The review is to be led by Commander Phil Gormley, and will consult with various armed units within the force, such as SO19, the armed offenders unit, or the Flying Squad.

An extra £1 million is being spent modernizing armed response vehicles and training 50 more specialist firearms officers.

The review may also recommend the placing of these specialist vehicles in every borough in London.

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Simon Hughes has called for more officers to be armed, saying those on patrol in high-crime areas should have weapons.

Officers should not be routinely armed, but should carry firearms in a particular area if justified by the level of gun crime, he said.