Italy has an abundance of police forces, administered by various public authorities. The Vigili Urbani (municipal traffic police) are appointed and paid locally. The interior ministry in Rome is in charge of the 82,000-strong public security police, whose subdivisions include the highway patrol (Polizia stradale) and railway police. Organized in 1946, their numbers included many former Fascist militia members and thus came to be seen as a holdover from the former regime. In the immediate postwar period, interior minister Mario Scelba relied on the public security police when he formed the so-called celere (riot squads) to break up leftist demonstrations and picket lines.
   The Ministry of Agriculture administers the Corpo forestale or forestry corps. Under the control of the Treasury Ministry are the Guardie di Finanza (GDF), the gray-uniformed finance guards (more than 40,000 in number) whose responsibilities include border control, customs collection, antismuggling activity, and the collection of taxes. Like other Italian police (save the municipal police), the GdF are paramilitary and equipped with automatic rapid-fire weapons, light armored vehicles, and helicopters.
   The senior and most respected force remains the carabinieri, part of the armed forces who serve as military police at army installations and as battle police in wartime. Accordingly, they are administered by the Ministry of Defense and are variously called La Benemerita (The Most Deserving) and l’Arma Fedelissima (The Most Faithful Service). The 20 carabinieri legions (one in each region) are subdivided into provincial groups and dispersed in 4,700 local stations, each of which is headed by a maresciallo (a noncommissioned officer). Each public prosecutor’s office has a detachment of carabinieri to execute arrests, carry out searches, and conduct investigations. There are also specialist armored brigades, helicopter-borne forces, parachutists, frogmen, and the Gruppo d’intervento speciale (GIS), which has trained with Britain’s and Germany’s antiterrorist commandos. Many carabinieri have been killed in the last two decades by the terrorists of the Brigate Rosse/Red Brigades (BR) or by the mafia. This may help explain why they are seen as a disciplined force at the service of the public rather than enforcers of particular political persuasions. In fact, commemorative plaques at sites of German or Fascist executions of partisans (e.g., Fiesole near Florence; Ardeatine caves outside Rome) reproduce accounts of individual carabinieri who volunteered to take the place of terrified civilians pleading for their lives. When carabinieriare ambushed and killed by criminal elements, it is not unusual for spontaneous offerings of flowers to mark the spot.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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