Law enforcement in Italy

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Law enforcement in Italy is provided by multiple police forces, five of which are national, Italian agencies.



Law enforcement in Italy is an exclusive function of the State. While organisations and companies may have “security guards” (called “Guardie Giurate”), investigation and police duties are carried by national law enforcement bodies. In a general overview, the most common definition and idea of "police" can be applied only to two forces, Polizia di Stato and Carabinieri: both of them have full power in the investigation, public safety duties, road patrols and others. Nevertheless, other forces exist, focusing on specifical and distinguished duties (for example the finance and economy police called "Guardia di Finanza" [roughly, Customs, Excise and Fraud Squad - see below], the prison guards agency of "Polizia Penitenziaria" and, up to 2016, when it was absorbed in the Carabinieri, the environment and forestry police guard of "Guardia Forestale").

Italy divides law enforcement into Military and Civil forces, distinguishing each "agency" by duties and jurisdictions. All law enforcement officers are considered "Pubblico Ufficiale" [Public Functionary] and but not all officers belonging to police forces are "Agente di Pubblica Sicurezza" [Public Safety officer] as the latter gives the authority to arrest, investigate and patrol in the whole national territory and in all situations.

In a different way from other countries (such as the United States), Italy does not have multiple specialised agencies for immigration, drug, patrolling and etc, but each “subject” is investigated by a dedicated section of each national agency (as for example Polizia Stradale [highway patrol] is a section of “Polizia di Stato” with focus on road patrolling and various crimes committed on national and local roads.), making it easier to collaborate in the same investigation implying different sections.

All police are under the Ministero dell'Interno for the public order tasks (the highest police and public safety authority, which - through the Department of Public Safety - coordinates the enforcement. Locally, Polizia di Stato [National Police] is under the Authority of the Prefetto, who collaborates with the Questore (the local chief of Polizia di Stato, with technical jurisdiction on all forces) to organise law enforcement activities.

Borders and Maritime patrolling is a specifical duty of Guardia Costiera agency called "Corpo delle Capitanerie di Porto", but officers - who are in facts members of Italian Navy, have not full powers as Polizia or Carabinieri.

Working local and minor tasks, from traffic (in the minor cities and towns) to drug dealing and abusive camping or other (in major cities, as for Milan, Rome, Naples and others) municipal police can be found on duties. This means that each City or town has its own police department but the latter is limited in jurisdiction and duties: i.e. Local officers can control driver licences, respect of municipal laws and authorisations and investigations for robbery and little offences, but they can never form a "riot squad" or interfere with homicide or general investigation by Police and Carabinieri. Each Polizia Locale, in fact, is under the authority of the respective local mayor, but the officers' mandate is valid only during duty time and in the town borders, whereas Carabinieri, Polizia di Stato and Guardia di Finanza are always formally "on duty", even during leave and vacations.

During 2005 in Italy, the number of active police officers from all agencies totaled 324,339, the highest number in the European Union both overall and per capita, twice the number of agents in the similarly sized United Kingdom.[1] However, in this numbers are included the members of the Arma dei Carabinieri, one of the four Italian Armed Forces, that does not only have a law enforcement role.


National police forces

Polizia di Stato

The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the civil national police of Italy. Along with patrolling, investigative and law enforcement duties, it patrols the Autostrada (Italy's Express Highway network), and oversees the security of railways, bridges and waterways.

It is a civilian police force, while the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza are military. While its internal organization and mindset is somewhat military, its personnel is composed of civilians. Its headquarters are in Rome, and there are Regional and Provincial divisions throughout Italian territory.

A program Polizia di Quartiere (Quarter Police) has been implemented which increases police presence and deters crime. Pairs of poliziotti (policemen) or carabinieri patrol areas of major cities on foot.

Guardia di Finanza

The Guardia di Finanza, (English: Financial Guard) is a military corps under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, with a role as police force.

The Corps is in charge of financial, economic, judiciary and public safety: tax evasion, financial crimes, smuggling, money laundering, international illegal drug trafficking, illegal immigration, customs and borders checks, copyright violations, anti-Mafia operations, credit card fraud, cybercrime, counterfeiting, terrorist financing, maintaining public order, and safety, political and military defense of the Italian borders.

The Guardia di Finanza has a strength of around 68,000 soldiers working as agents, NCOs and officers. Its militaries are in service in the Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office. Its Latin motto since 1933 is Nec recisa recedit (English: Not Even Broken Retreats). The Guardia di Finanza also maintains over 600 boats and ships and more than 100 aircraft to fulfill its mission of patrolling Italy's territorial waters.

During demonstrations and very big events, the Guardia di Finanza is often called on duty as riot police.

Arma dei Carabinieri

Carabinieri in Piazza San Marco, Venice, 1924.

The Carabinieri is the common name for the Arma dei Carabinieri, a Gendarmerie-like military corps with police duties. They also serve as the military police for the Italian armed forces.

The Carabinieri have become a separate armed force (alongside the Army, Navy and Air Force), thus ending their long-standing tradition as the First Corps (Arma) of the Italian Army (Esercito). They are referred to as the Arma or La Benemerita (The Meritorious Corps).

Carabinieri units have been dispatched all over the world in peacekeeping missions, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In November 2003, twelve Carabinieri were killed in a suicide bomb attack on their base in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. This was Italy's largest military loss in a single action since World War II.

Until 2001,[2] only men were allowed to become part of the Arma (or any military force, for that matter), but military reforms allow women to serve in the Italian military, including Carabinieri.

Having both military police duties and civil police duties, the Arma is usually called on duty as riot police during big events and demonstrations.

Polizia Penitenziaria

The Polizia Penitenziaria (Prison Guards, literally Penitentiary Police) operate the Italian prison system and handle the transportation of inmates. The training academies for the Polizia Penitenziaria are located in Aversa, Monastir, Cairo Montenotte, Castiglione delle Stiviere, Parma, Portici, Rome, San Pietro Clarenza, Verbania and Sulmona.

Its agents are sometimes called to help the other police forces during big events.

Corpo Forestale dello Stato

The Corpo Forestale dello Stato (National Forestry Department, now dissolved) was responsible for law enforcement in Italian national parks and forests. Their duties included enforcing poaching laws, safeguarding protected animal species and preventing forest fires. Founded in 1822, the Corpo Forestale dello Stato was a civilian police force specialised on the environmental protection. A recent law reform expanded its duties to food controls.[3] In Italy it had the responsibility to manage the activities related to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The Autonomous Region of Sardinia has its own corp of forestry police.[4]

Corpo Forestale dello Stato was dissolved on December 31, 2016 and all personnel become militarized and absorbed into the Carabinieri's Comando unità per la tutela forestale, ambientale e agroalimentare.


The Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (or DIA) (Anti-Mafia Investigation Department) is a joint organization of Polizia di Stato, Carabinieri, Corpo Forestale dello Stato and Guardia di Finanza for the fight against organized crime. Founded in 1991, under the authority of the Minister of Interior e the coordination of the Direzione Nazionale Antimafia (National Anti-Mafia Directorat). Its operations include preemptive investigations, judicial investigations, and international relations, and it investigates characteristics, objectives, and methods of the Mafia as well as their domestic and international contacts. The DIA was to prevent mafiosi from infiltrating the government.[5]

The Direzione Centrale per i Servizi Antidroga (Central Directorate for Anti-Drug Services) is a joint organization of Polizia di Stato, Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza for the fight against drug trafficking. Founded in 1976 us Direzione Anti Droga (Anti-Drug Directorate), is under the authority of the Criminal police department of the Minister of Interior.

Local police forces

Provincial Police

The Polizia Provinciale (Provincial Police) is a local police only used in some of the 109 provinces of Italy. Their main tasks are to enforce regional and national hunting and fishing laws, but have also expanded in wildlife management and environmental protection. Carries traffic police service and participates in the security services arranged by the authorities.

Municipal Police

In addition, each comune has its own Polizia Municipale (Municipal Police) whose main duty is to enforce local regulations and traffic laws; it also deals with petty crimes but in larger cities they cooperate with the national police forces to prevent and repress major crimes. Depending on their location they are also called Polizia Municipale, Polizia Locale, Polizia Comunale, Polizia Urbana or Vigili Urbani.

In some regions Polizia Provinciale and Polizia Municipale are grouped together under the name Polizia Locale (Local Police), although they keep their own internal organisation. Small communes can merge their local police forces in a consortium.

Both provincial and municipal forces are reliant on the State Police for scientific support and other forms of assistance.


The Organizzazione di Vigilanza Repressione dell'Antifascismo (or OVRA) (English: Organization for Vigilance in Repression of Anti-Fascism) was a secret police organization in Italy during fascism.

The Polizia dell'Africa Italiana or PAI (Police of Italian Africa) (1936–1944).

The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (National Republic Guard) was a paramilitary force of the Italian Social Republic created by decree on December 8, 1943, replacing the Carabinieri and the MVSN.

Zaptié were locally raised gendarmerie units in the Italian colonies of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Colonia Primigenia and Somalia between 1889 and 1942.

Zaptié were used during the period of Trust Territory of Somaliland from 1950 to 1960. Members were sent to Italy to train and after 1960 the merged into the Somali Police Force.


a Lamborghini Gallardo of the Polizia di Stato, used for emergency intervention and transport of organs, parked in Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia in Trieste
State Police Fiat Grande Punto
an Alfa Romeo 159 parked at the seafront in Bari

Until recently, all Italian police forces were equipped with Italian-made police cars, with FIAT and Alfa Romeos most common. The most famous of them, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, gave the nicknames of the cars still commonly used today. A patrol car belonging to Polizia is nicknamed Pantera (Panther), one used by the Carabinieri is nicknamed Gazzella (Gazelle) and every unmarked car is called a Civetta (Owl).

Every force has helicopters, trucks and campers (used as mobile offices, usually in undercover missions). In Venice, which is built across several islands linked by bridges and surrounded by water, public security and fire brigades work with boats.

In 2004, Lamborghini donated two Lamborghini Gallardo police cars to the Polizia di Stato on their 152nd anniversary. On the 31st November 2009 one of these supercars was badly damaged in a collision near the northern Italian town of Cremona where it was on display at a student jobs fair. The car apparently swerved to avoid another vehicle crossing its path and collided with two stationary vehicles; it was repaired in January 2010.

  • Arma dei Carabinieri patrol vehicles are very dark blue with a red stripe along the side. Most if not all have white roofs. Their telephone number is also featured - "112" (whilst that of the Polizia di Stato is "113"). Their vehicles have registration plates beginning with "CC".[6] Precedently, Carabinieri cars was dark green: the last green (and the first black) Carabinieri car was the Alfa Romeo Giulia.
  • Guardia di Finanza vehicles are dove grey or dark blue with a thin gold stripe along each side and the words Guardia di Finanza in gold underneath. The vehicle plates begin with the letters “GdiF” in red.[7]
  • Polizia di Stato vehicles are light blue with a white stripe along the side and the word POLIZIA in large letters underneath. The license plates start with the word Polizia in red usually followed by a letter and four numbers.[8] Like the Carabinieri veichles, the cars was precedently green, but before the green colour, the cars was red.
  • Polizia Penitenziaria vehicles are dark blue with a light blue stripe along the side and Polizia Penitenziaria in white letters under the stripe. License plates have the entire name POLIZIA PENITENZIARIA on them, followed by three numbers and two letters.[9]
  • Corpo Forestale dello Stato vehicles are green with a white stripe and the words CORPO FORESTALE DELLO STATO in white along the side. The vehicle plates begin with the letters “CFS” in red.[10] From January 2017 all vehicles has been trasnferred under the Carabinieri's Comando unità per la tutela forestale, ambientale e agroalimentare. The words "CORPO FORESTALE DELLO STATO" has been replaced with "CARABINIERI", but they still remain green with a white stripe.
  • Polizia Provinciale vehicles are white with a green horizontal stripe along the side.
  • Polizia Municipale the colours of vehicles depend on regional laws. Usually the cars are white with blue, green or red stripes and the words "Polizia Municipale" or "Polizia Locale" along the side, in some regions car color can be black or dark grey. License plates have the entire name POLIZIA LOCALE on them and the letter "Y" followed by another letter, three numbers and two letters.

See also


  1. ^ Crime and Criminal Justice - Issue number 19/2008 (KS-SF-08-019) Archived 2011-08-12 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^, web:
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Jamieson, Alison. The Antimafia. Great Britain: Antony Rowe Ltd., 2000. Print
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ [4]
  10. ^ [5]

External links

  • (in Italian) Polizia di Stato (official website) (English; Francais; Espanol; Deutsch)
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