Law enforcement in Italy is provided by five separate national police forces:
and three sub-national police forces:
The Carabinieri recently became 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), and are unrivalled in popular affection and national pride, although they are often subjects of jokes about their intelligence, because requirements to be a Carabiniere used to be very low (elementary-school level). Though the requirements are now higher, the stereotype persists.
In recent years Carabinieri units have been dispatched all over the world in peacekeeping missions, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, 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.
Previously, only men were allowed to become part of the Arma (or any military force, for that matter), but recent military reforms allow women to serve in the Italian military, including Carabinieri.
The Guardia di Finanza is a special Italian police force at the service of the Ministry of the Economy and Finance. The Guardia di Finanza is a Military Corps and is an integral part of the Italian Armed Forces as well as of the law enforcement agencies. Its duties primarily involve investigating money-related crimes, such as tax evasion, financial crimes, customs and border checks, money laundering, smuggling, international drugs trafficking, Terrorist Financing, illegal immigration, credit cards frauds, anti-mafia operations and money counterfeiting. Their functions overlap somewhat with some of the duties of the following American agencies: the IRS, the FBI, DEA, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs. The Guardia di Finanza has a naval fleet for the overseeing of territorial waters, and an air force.
The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the National Police of Italy. Along with common patrolling, investigative and law enforcement duties, it is responsible for patrolling the Autostrada (Italy's Express Highway network), and overseeing the security of railways, bridges and waterways.
It is a civilian police force, while the Carabinieri are military. While its internal organization and mindset is somewhat military, its personnel is composed totally of civilians. Its headquarters are located in Rome, and there are Regional and Provincial divisions scattered throughout Italian territory.
In recent years, a new program called Polizia di Quartiere was implemented which aimed at increasing police presence and deterring crime. Pairs of poliziotti (policemen) or carabinieri patrol specific areas of major cities on foot. Its critics contend that these efforts are ineffective, as the areas with the greatest concentration of crime are being neglected.
The Polizia Penitenziaria (Prison Guards, literally Penitentiary Police) operate the Italian prison system and handle the transportation of inmates.
Similar to Park Rangers in the US, the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (National Forestry Department) controls Italian national parks and forests. Their duties also include fighting poachers, safeguarding protected animal species and preventing forest fires.
Polizia Provinciale operate in all of the 109 provinces of Italy. In addition, Polizia Regionale operate in five of the autonomous regions. Their main duties are to enforce regional and national hunting and fishing laws but have also expanded into wildlife management and environmental protection. The forces' vehicles are white with a green stripe along the side.
In addition, each commune has its own Polizia Municipale (municipal police) who deal with petty crime, anti-social behaviour and so on. In some regions of Italy these forces can also be called Polizia Urbana or Vigili Urbani.
In some regions Polizia Provinciale and Polizia Municipale are grouped into the Polizia Locale name, although they keep their own internal organisation.
Furthermore, the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) provides law enforcement on the sea and is part of the Italian Navy.
The Organizzazione di Vigilanza Repressione dell'Antifascismo Organization for Vigilance in Repression of Anti-Fascism was also a historical secret police organization in Italy during fascism.
Some forces have their own special corps, with more specific duties. The most common are listed below, among with a brief description and with their American counterpart, where possible.
Until recently, all Italian police forces were equipped with Italian-made police cars. 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 also 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 - fully equipped with lights and sirens and capable of travelling at almost 310 km/h - to the state police on the occasion of their 152nd anniversary. This car is used for fast delivery of plasma and organs for transplantation.