Safe and secure?

Local and national officials get tough on crime

Editorial Staff
May 29, 2008

When news broke that a young Rom woman had tried to kidnap a newborn from a Naples home, citizens there reacted violently, lighting several gypsy shanty-towns on fire. Attacks on Rom camps elsewhere in Italy followed. The mayor of Prato, Marco Romagnoli, recently wrote to Interior minister Roberto Maroni to decry the illegal Chinese immigrants living and working in Prato. Italian police have also been working with Romanian police to weed out illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Across Italy, police have been mobilized to dismantle Rom encampments. Citizen outcry against crimes committed by foreign nationals, violence against ethnic minority groups, and civic action to address illegal immigration: all these are evidence of the rising tension between Italian citizens and foreigners. The question of how and when to punish foreign individuals who commit crimes has dominated much of Italian politics lately.


At the same time, national and regional efforts continue against homegrown Italian organized crime, and local officials are struggling to address ‘quality-of-life' crimes that contribute to urban blight and make people in cities feel unsafe. Law-and-order legislation is in front of Italy's parliament and municipalities alike.


In its first cabinet meeting, the centre-right national government swiftly pushed through a controversial security package that makes illegal immigration a crime, punishable with up to four years in prison. This will be the first time that clandestine immigration will be an offence punishable by jail time. Up to now, illegal migrants have either been deported or simply been ordered to leave Italy.


The measures will make it easier to expel foreigners, including EU citizens, who are convicted of offences. In addition, local authorities will be empowered to check on the living conditions of citizens from other EU nations before granting them right of residence. Police will be able to confiscate property rented to illegal immigrants, and landlords who rent to illegal immigrants will also face jail time. If approved by Parliament within the next 60 days, the emergency decree will take immediate effect.


The world has noticed Italy's struggle with these issues. Humanitarian groups and other European countries had harsh words for Italy's recent treatment of the Rom. Members of Spain's parliament criticized the hard-line law-and-order package introduced by Maroni, accusing Italy of ‘xenophobia'. The European Commission said it was ‘keeping an eye' on Italy and warned politicians not to ‘take extreme measures' against citizens of the European Union.


Many Italians fear the new legislation will foment racism. However, Maroni said his package would try to ‘prevent rage prevailing over civilised co-existence'.


At the local level, Florence's administration rolled out tough new measures to combat illegal immigration, crime and urban degradation.


A new municipal ordinance, which would be enforced by local police, will outlaw a variety of activities. In the area of commerce, the ordinance bans vending in the street without a permit; displaying merchandise on the ground; window-washing and selling merchandise and newspapers at traffic intersections. The ordinance also pinpoints problematic behavior: public drunkenness and disorder; firecrackers (in both public and private places); prostitution near schools or churches; breaching fences that protect city monuments; reclining on public grounds or church steps (sitting is allowed); ‘love locks' on public monuments; failure to clean up after pets in public places; graffiti on public walls; even if it is true, playing Frisbee isn't ‘problem behavior'; animals in public fountains; feeding homeless animals. All violations carry a 160-euro fine.


Like their national counterparts, Florence officials are also getting tough on illegal immigrants. Police recently took down an illegal encampment in the abandoned Cnr building in Firenze Nova. It has been occupied by both legal and illegal foreigners for years, including families and young children. Florence police will let the families remain until local officials can give them the proper social assistance.


Compounding the issue of safety is the question of who keeps watch over public  property and residents. Increased fears of foreigners and crime has spurred some local politicians to set up their own citizen patrols in an effort to ensure increased security for residents. Youth members of Alleanza Nazionale and the Lega Nord have announced they want to start patrolling Florence city streets and piazzas.


Safety superintendent Graziano Cioni responded bluntly to the news about citizen patrols, stating, ‘It's a terrible idea. No one can replace the role of police otherwise the democratic system will collapse...If local police need help then all they have to do is ask for it'. Cioni argues that his citizens sentinels simply act as ‘informants' to municipal police, without taking the law into their own hands.


Florence prefect Andrea de Martino also criticized the idea: ‘It is the job of the police force to guarantee citizen safety and security for the risks involved'.


The debate has not discouraged those who want citizen patrols. Local representatives of the Lega Nord are collecting the names of those who would like to help guard the city. 

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