A 1981 reform was supposed to merge the carabinieri with the other police forces, although nothing came of it and there’s still considerable duplication of their roles. Both carabinieri and ‘ordinary’ police are responsible for public order and security, and you can contact either to report a crime; dial 112 (non-emergencies) or 113 (emergencies) for police assistance. You should report a theft to the carabinieri or the polizia di stato.
The carabinieri are a special branch of the army (numbering around 113,000), with similar functions to the police, particularly concerning criminal investigation. They deal with national and serious crime, including organised crime, and are Italy’s most efficient and professional police force (and the best-funded).
Carabinieri officers are distinguished by their dark blue uniforms with a red stripe down the side of the trousers and white shoulder belts; they also have splendid ceremonial uniforms with long cloaks and ‘Napoleonic’ hats. They’re housed in barracks ( caserma) in all major towns and cities, drive navy blue cars and also employ helicopters, aircraft and speed boats.
The polizia di stato or polizia statale is a national or state police force, with branches responsible for the security of main roads ( polizia stradale), the rail system ( polizia ferroviaria) and airports ( polizia aereoportuale). Officers wear light blue trousers with a thin purple stripe and a dark blue jacket.
They have stations ( questura or a commissariati in smaller towns) in all main towns and cities, and drive light-blue cars with a white stripe and ‘ Polizia’ written on the side. If you want to obtain a residence permit, you should go to the polizia (ask for the Ufficio Stranieri).
The vigili urbani are municipal or local police, who deal mainly with local traffic control and municipal administration, and consequently aren’t very popular (not that any police are popular).
Officers wear white helmets and dress in black in winter and blue in summer, drive black and white cars or ride motorcycles or bicycles. Some municipal police speak foreign languages, shown by a badge on their uniforms.
Guardia di Finanza
The guardia di finanza (numbering around 68,000) is responsible for regulating national and international financial dealings and combating fraud, counterfeiting, tax evasion and smuggling.
They’re particularly active at border crossings, airports and ports, where they operate fast powerboats to apprehend smugglers. Officers wear grey/green uniforms with an insignia of yellow flames on the shoulders (hence their nickname of fiamme gialle). Although it’s highly unlikely, you could be stopped by an officer of the guardi guardia di finanza if you leave a shop without a receipt for a purchase.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.