The Difference between Carabinieri and Police

Updated 04/2022

Whether you live in Italy or are just here for a minute, you might have noticed all the different police around. In any major city you will probably run into a few Carabinieri, Police in blue, and Polizia Municipale, plus of course the men-in-green Guardia di Finanza. In the eyes of the ordinary passer-by, they may look much the same. Names and uniforms are different, but they all do the same thing, right? Well not exactly. Let’s get into the difference between the Carabinieri and Police.

What is the difference between Carabinieri and Police?

Carabinieri and police are both, in their intent and purpose, police forces. But, one way they differ is that the Carabinieri is an Arma, they are a military branch. They belong to the armed forces and, therefore, respond to the Ministry of Defense. The Polizia (the ones in blue), on the other hand, is a civilian structure that is working under the Ministry of the Interior. There are a few more differences that are good to note, so keep on reading to find out the differences and who you should call when you need help!

Carabinieri: what do they do?

The Carabinieri Corps was established by King Vittorio Emanuele I of Savoy, in 1814 as a military unit with police duties.

Until 2000, the Corp was 100% a part of the Italian Army. Today, however, while remaining an armed force, the Carabinieri have an autonomous structure that allows members to participate in military missions abroad no longer with the sole function of military police. The Carabinieri does remain under the direct control of the Ministry of Defense, despite being now a police force.

In their military capacity, the Carabinieri’s duties include:

  • Military Police duties, and security within armed forces;
  • Peace Missions abroad and international security;
  • security of Italian diplomatic representations abroad.

In their capacity as a police force, they depend on the Ministry of the Interior for what concerns public security, control of the territory, public order, and the interests of the community. This may be the protection of monuments, responding to calls for public crimes.

Police: who are they?

The Polizia di Stato is another national police force controlled by the Government, responding to the Ministry of the Interior with civil order. You will spot them by their blue cars and uniforms.

You might also see:

  • the Penitentiary Police, which works with the Ministry of Justice, specifically for prison-related tasks
  • the Guardia di Finanza, which deals with currency, financial, and tax crimes and depends on the Ministry of Economy and Finance with a military order. Like the Carabinieri, it may have judicial police, public security, customs, and tax police duties;
  • the Coast Guard, which responds to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport with military order within the Navy. It may also have tasks of judicial, environmental, and technical-administrative maritime police.

State Police: A few things they do

While walking around the city centers of Italy, you may have passed by a couple of policemen on foot or by car circling an area. These patrols control the streets and neighborhoods of cities, stations, ports, and airports. In some neighborhoods, you can also see in action the Mounted Police (yep on horses!) and the Crime Prevention Department, which intervenes when there is a citizen report of suspicious activity.

Other work that this sector might deal with includes:

  • the Traffic Police, in charge of safety on the roads;
  • the Border Police, in charge of ports and airports both with regard to travelers and to the goods that transit to and from Italy;
  • the Railway Police, which controls stations and provides escorts on trains when necessary.

State Police: investigative work

The State Police also includes:

  • the Mobile Squad which carries out investigative activities both on its own initiative and on behalf of the judicial authority;
  • the Anti-drugs Operators;
  • the General Investigations Division of Special Operations. It guarantees security and public order in the context of public sporting events or public squares (parades, matches, concerts, etc.);
  • the Judicial Police at the Prosecutor’s Offices of the Republic, which is responsible for investigating what the judicial authority orders;
  • the Scientific Police, which intervenes when a particular competence in biological, chemical, or physical sciences is necessary;
  • the Postal Police, which is part of the Forensic Department and deals with the fight against computer crime in all its forms;
  • shooters and bomb squads, i.e., highly specialized agents engaged in high-risk operations.

Municipal Police: what do they do?

Locally within cities, you will see the Municipal Police. They may have the title “Polizia Municipale” or they may have the title “Vigili Urbani” depending on the city.

Often we think this police force is just responsible for parking tickets, but they actually do much more. The operational scope of these agents has expanded quite a bit in recent years. To name a few of their areas of operation:

  • narcotics, property and personal crimes;
  • protection of minors;
  • crimes against the Public Administration and against the environment;
  • fight against abusive commerce;
  • public security;
  • anti-terrorism;
  • protection of public property.

Then of course, they will act as Traffic Police when necessary.

Together with other police forces, they may intervene in many large-scale event protection at demonstrations, sports matches, concerts or other special events.

So who to call? Carabinieri or Police?

Back in the day, when you found yourself in an emergency situation, there was this question: should you call the Carabinieri or Police? This problem was solved with the creation of a single emergency number. Today you will only have to remember 112, and an operator who sorts the call according to the urgency to be resolved. Alternatively, if you do need someone specific these are other emergency numbers: 113 for the Police, 115 for the Fire Brigade, or 118 for an ambulance.

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