Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What’s next, the Keystone Cops, John Wayne or the Ghurkhas?

The Berlusconi government, as a way of showing its being super-tough on crime (ie, gypsies, petty crime, pickpocketing and what-not) and would-be terrorist attacks in Italy, has sent 3,000 soldiers in 9 Italian cities in order to give (normal) police authorities a hand with combating crime.

BBC World picked up on the news the other day (as I would imagine also other international television networks have done). The army personnel doesn’t per se have judicial powers, in the sense that they can’t really arrest anyone. That’s left up to the cops. What they can do is just assist the regular police authorities, by handing them over would-be criminals. And in Italy we’ve got a zillion different police units: the state police, the Carabinieri (the para-military police which is equal say to Canada’s RCMP), the city/town vigili (local cops), the Guardia di Finanza (the financial police), the Digos (police investigative unit) plus a myriad of secret services (both military and civilian).

The comical thing about all this is that with ALL the police forces in Italy (prior to the arrival of the army), one would think that the country was safe enough. But no. And quite honestly I’ve never been able to figure that one out yet as I personally (and my folks too) have been victims of crime in early 20 years in Italy, beginning with my Citroen car which was stolen some 15 years ago in Rome (it was probably hauled away by a tow-truck during the night) and then my brand new scooter (which was locked with only 3 chains and a kryptonite lock around a light pole in my apartment courtyard) which disappeared one fine night (the kryptonite lock by the way I found on the street the morning after, conveniently cut in half!).

In 30 years of Canadian life the only thing they ever stole from us was the car battery once from our Gran Torino, and in the summertime we tended to leave all our lawn furniture outside, not to mention the house doors which could be kicked in rather easily! And pickpockets? Never in 30 years in Canada did I ever see or even hear of one being arrested (and I also took the subway in Montréal quite regularly), a fry cry from the incredible number of pick pockets that can be found in one day alone in Rome’s subway (on the infamous no. 64 bus, the one that goes from Rome’s main train station to the Vatican, undercover cops once found on just ONE bus a record 10 pickpockets! The must have been naturally all going to some pick pocket convention…).

Regarding my car (a used one by the way!), we went to the nearby Carabinieri station to report the theft. There, the young officer was typing away my report when the wife naively asked, “But can’t you do anything about all these car thefts, I don’t know, like night rounds or something like that” (n.b. Rome has approximately 135 cars stolen---per day!)? The cop looked up from his old Olivetti typewriter as he was typing away slowly with just two fingers (he wasn’t even using a PC back then!) and said, “Look lady, years ago a young kid was caught shoplifting in a department store in Rome. The kid was the son of some powerful Italian politician. The cop who arrested him ended up in the boondocks on the island of Sardinian for three years” (meaning to say: “YOU want ME to actually do my duty when I may risk arresting the kid of a powerful politician, and then having MY career totally ruined”?)! As a taxpayer, this was naturally NOT the answer I wanted to hear. In fact, just around that period I shall never forget that in jolly ‘ol England, Jack Straw’s son (Straw was at the time Britain’s Foreign Minister) had been nabbed smoking a joint or two. British public opinion didn’t care much about Straw Jr. and his drugs but rather wanted the resignation of Straw Sr. (as though our fathers are ALWAYS responsible for what we kids do in life)! Talk about two completely different worlds…

And the initial results of the army personnel in the streets of cities like Milan and Rome? Well, a rather upset 17 year-old pickpocket was nabbed in one of Rome’s subway stops, by a soldier who handed him over to the cops. This new endeavour by our “Great Leader” will go on for about 6 months. Opposition members are naturally sceptical as this new security operation is costing the state several million euros, money which could be perhaps better spent in supplying regular police with newer cars (some are breaking down, even though recently the state police purchased “only” a shiny new Lamborghini in order to nab drivers on Italian highways. We’re naturally talking about a car which no doubt costs around 200,000 euros (if not more!) and which can “only” go at over 220 km/hr (in 2nd gear!). Not too much waste in public money there, no siree), or photocopiers or other mundane things which they lack because the state has practically run out of money!

Seeing that the other day Italian news has also warned vacationers that pickpockets are now targeting beach areas and sunbathers’ wallets and what not, I’m wondering if just off of Italian beaches we’ll also be seeing mini-submarines or AWACS flying overhead as people are tanning and swimming!

James Bond, where are you when we need you?

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