Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The long arms of the law – Italy’s two police forces

Something that baffles visitors to Italy – and sometimes Italians themselves – is the fact the nation seems to have two police forces. There’s the Polizia, who are like the regular state police, and the Carabinieri, who are affiliated with the army. Interestingly, it was the Carabinieri who were around first, dating back fifty years before the unification of Italy. Established to protect the ruling monarchies of certain regions, they took their name from the carabina rifles they once carried.
The Carabinieri started out much like a private army, but stayed on once Italy united, helping oversee law and order alongside the newly-formed state police. They’re still active to this day, with a division known as the Corazzieri acting as honor guard of the Italian President.
Despite the duplication of roles with the police, they seemingly face a much stricter set of rules governing their behavior. Traditionally, serving Carabinieri can only work in their home state once they have 8 years experience, which means signing up to become one means spending long amounts of time away from friends and family.
It’s rules like this that also see the Carabinieri become the butt of many (good natured) jokes. One rule in particular attracted ridicule – dictating the amount of facial hair a man in the force should have. A seemingly trivial topic for an elite military force to be concerned with, back-peddling saw many hurried revisions over a short space of time, not to mention red-faced officials.
They may attract mockery at times, but at the end of the day, it’s often the Carabinieri who are first on the scene to help out with accidents and emergencies, so they’ll always have a place in Italian hearts.