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Guardia di Finanza to Carabinieri – who does what in the Italian police force?

A Carabinieri and state police car at St. Peter's Square in The Vatican on March 28, 2021. Vincenzo
Do you know the Italian Carabinieri from the state police? Phot:o: Vincenzo PINTO/AFP
Anyone used to one single national police force may struggle with the many different types of officer in Italy, so here is our guide to who does what in the Italian police.

If you’ve spent time in Italy you will have noticed that there are several different types of police, all of whom wear different uniforms. For the non-native figuring out which officers do what can be pretty confusing, so here’s a guide to the different types of police in Italy.

Polizia di Stato

Officers of Italy’s Polizia di Stato, or national police force, are responsible for maintaining public security and order, as well as carrying out investigations.

The Polizia di Stato was a military police force until 1981, but now operates as a civilian force under the Ministero dell’Interno, or Ministry of the Interior, reporting directly to the Dipartimento della Pubblica Sicurezza (Department of Public Security).

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Its members wear light blue trousers with a dark magenta stripe running up the side, dark blue jackets, and black boots, and drive light blue-and-white striped cars with POLIZIA written on the side.

Police officers stand next to a branch of Credit Agricole bank in Milan on November 3, 2020.

Police officers stand next to a branch of Credit Agricole bank in Milan. Photo: Miguel MEDINA/AFP

In addition to its other duties, this force is also responsible for ensuring the security of roads, railways, airports, and waterways; enforcing control of borders; conducting customs checks; and monitoring postal and internet communications.

Its members work out of questure, or police stations, all over the country; every major town or city in Italy has a questura.

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Unlike other police forces in Italy, the Polizia di Stato also carries out a number of bureaucratic and administrative functions, such as visa processing and registering tourists staying in hotels.

That means that as a foreigner you’ll need to pay a visit to the questura not just when reporting a crime, but also to perform essential tasks such as applying for and requesting an extension to your residency permit.

Carabinieri

The carabinieri, Italy’s national gendarmerie, are a military force that operates under the Ministero della Difesa, or Ministry of Defence – though for many of their domestic policing functions relating to internal public order and security, they effectively depend on the Interior Ministry to carry out their work.

The force’s name comes from the French word carabinier, meaning ‘soldier armed with a carbine’ (a type of rifle with a shortened barrel). They were initially founded by King Vittorio Emanuele I of Savoy in 1814 to protect what was then the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The Carabinieri carry out many of the same functions as the Polizia di Stato when it comes to maintaining internal law and order. They have a nationwide remit to carry out investigations, and are also responsible for policing the armed forces.

A Carabinieri police officer checks a driver's papers at a road check point on March 9, 2020 in Valsamoggia near Bologna.

A Carabinieri police officer checks a driver’s papers at a road checkpoint in Valsamoggia near Bologna. Photo: Piero CRUCIATTI/AFP

Its officers wear a range of uniforms, but the one you’ll most commonly see is a black four-button jacket with a white shirt underneath and black trousers with wide red stripes running up the side. They live in and operate out of caserme, or barracks.

In addition to domestic policing, carabinieri officers also participate in military operations and peacekeeping missions abroad, and provide security to Italian diplomatic and consular missions.

The Carabinieri absorbed part of Italy’s Corpo Forestale dello Stato or Forestry Police at the start of 2017.

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This disbanded force, which now operates as the Carabinieri’s Command Unit for Forestry, Environmental and Agri-food protection, was responsible for protecting the country’s resources and natural environment; arresting poachers; and providing rescue and disaster relief assistance in mountainous areas.

Guardia di Finanza

The Guardia di Finanza, or Financial Police, are also a militarised police force, but unlike the Carabinieri, they operate under the auspices of the Ministero dell’Economia e delle Finanze (Economy and Finance Ministry) rather than the Ministry of Defence.

The primary responsibility of the Guardia di Finanza is (as you might guess) fighting financial crime, including bribery and corruption, money laundering, credit card fraud, cybercrime, and counterfeiting.

A member of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Financial Police Force patrols a check-point at an entrance to the small town of Zorlesco on February 26, 2020.

A member of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Financial Police Force patrols a check-point at an entrance to the small town of Zorlesco on February 26, 2020. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Along with carrying out some of the same functions as the Polizia di Stato and the Carabinieri relating to domestic law enforcement, including border control, the force also combats illegal drug trafficking.

Because of its focus on smuggling, the Guardia di Finanza has approximately 600 boats and 100 aircraft, and its officers are most frequently seen at border crossings, airports and ports.

Members wear a distinctive grey-green uniform with a yellow flame insignia and  displaying a yellow GUARDIA DI FINANZA label.

Polizia Penitenziaria

The Polizia Penitenziaria, or Penitentiary Police Corps, operates under the Italian Ministry of Justice and is responsible for running the Italian prison system.

The force maintains order and security within and around prisons, conducting armed surveillance along the outer walls and at the entrances to prevent anyone coming or going without authorisation.

A Polizia Penitenziaria police car.
A Polizia Penitenziaria police car. Source: WikiCommons

The Polizia Penitenziaria also supply transportation, escort, and guard services for prisoners being transported from one place to another; and organise work, education, and rehabilitation programmes for inmates.

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The force can be called upon to carry out public order and security functions when necessary, including public rescue.

It has its own horse and dog units and naval service.

Polizia Provinciale

Italy’s Polizia Provinciale or Provincial Police are a local police force that operates in only some of Italy’s 109 provinces.

Their primary responsibility is the enforcement of regional and national hunting and fishing laws and traffic rules, but they can also carry out environmental protection and wildlife management activities, and can provide security services when called upon by the authorities.

Members of Italy’s Polizia Municipale police force.
Members of Italy’s Polizia Municipale police force. Source: WikiCommons

Polizia Municipale

Italy’s Polizia Municipale (Municipal Police), Polizia Locale (Local Police), or Vigili Urbani operate in towns and cities across Italy. Each comune (town) in Italy has its own local police force.

As you might expect, a local police force’s remit is much more limited than that of any of the national police forces. Their main duty is to enforce local regulations and traffic laws and deal with petty crimes.

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In larger cities, however, the Polizia Locale may work with national police forces to prevent and investigate major criminal activity.

Their members wear white helmets and have different coloured uniforms depending on the season (blue in the summer, black in the winter). They may ride motorcycles or bicycles, or drive black and white cars.


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