Almost everyone apart from Liberty and the loony left has awarded you gold stars for allowing the lads and lasses in your armed response vehicles (ARVs) to carry guns in the rough vicinity of their hips. Let's face it, Paul, some crews are not as trim of tum as you would like them to be. But, despite all the folklore to the contrary, you know what people do when faced by a gift horse, so I hope you won't mind if I tap one or two of this particular nag's teeth.

Is there a force ergonomist? You'll need one to work out how a driver will cope with a belt holding a revolver, an ammunition pouch, a rapid loader, a pair of handcuffs, a side-handled baton, a pepper spray and a thing for taking stones out of horses' hooves. Presumably anyone staggering under that lot will not be bothering with the pocket books, fixed penalty tickets and accident reports issued to the old-fashioned scourges of the middle-class motorist.

And were you at all influenced in your decision by the mutterings of those ARV crews who were becoming just a little tetchy at constantly turning up to potential shoot-outs - at which they have to hang about for permission from an assistant commissioner to open the box - while their colleagues in the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group stalk around waving Smith & Wessons? I'm sure there is no truth in the rumour that, conscious of statistics indicating that 10 per cent of American police casualties are shot by their own side, ARV crews wanted parity of firearms just in case the RDPG ever opened up on them.

But more important than either of these considerations, will the weapons be carried loaded? Even under the strict regimen of the firearms training school, accidents have been known to happen. In the days when I was being taught to aim and fire, there was the syndrome in which a single lone shot was followed by an expletive as some eager student realised he had pulled the trigger before the instructor's command.

I saw the syndrome developed in a spectacular fashion when a detective, handing a loaded gun back to a station officer (he should have unloaded outside the station), accidentally fired it. The bullet hit the station officer over the heart, but was stopped from going any further by the old-fashioned leather pocket-book holder the victim had in his top pocket - a triumph of tradition over trajectory. Similar accidents are not unknown, I am told, at the Ring of Lego around the City of London while officers are handing over their weapons to the next constable on duty.

I'm sure everything will go smoothly and your limited escalation will boost morale and provide a deterrent. But let's hope that the first time a gun is fired, it won't be someone shooting himself in the foot.

Brian Hilliard

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