It was a typical evening at the Piazza Della Repubblica, Urbino’s central gathering place, and the crowds were spilling out of the cafes and bars talking and laughing, sipping drinks, and licking gelato. In the midst of the revelry, a uniformed police officer walked about the square, chatting with citizens and chastising one group of teenagers for drinking out of glass bottles. No one seemed to mind being approached by the police. The teenagers threw their bottles away, without one word of complaint.
Unlike America, where the sight of the police sends a ripple of apprehension through most crowds, in Urbino the polizia (the local police), blend in as members of the family.
“There is a special philosophy [of the Italian law enforcement], that is to be close to people,” said Vice Questore Agguinto Sguanci through an interpreter.
With degrees in law enforcement and psychology, Vice Questore Sguanci has worked in law enforcement since 1988 and has been with the Commissariato di Pubblica Sicurezza di Urbino with the Urbino Police Department for the past five years. Sguanci began as an agent and worked his way up the ranks, serving many years in the investigation bureau for the Department of Republico (public order), covering cities such as Rome, Pesaro and Ancona.
Sguanci believes that the duty of the police is to build trust with the citizens. He painted a picture of Urbino as a pleasant university community, where police officers spend most of their time settling occasional quarrels between residents and checking into reports of vandalism. The first homicide in five years occurred last winter in an argument between an employee and his boss and the last major robbery occurred more than two years ago at a local bank.
With such a law-abiding populace, the local police are not the action heroes of American TV cop dramas, but closer to friendly counselors. “They spend their time truly listening to citizens, whether they are reporting a crime or need help with a problem in their neighborhood,” Sguanci said. ” They make sure to give a better service to the people they protect and want them to feel that they are friends not enemies.”
In fact, that role is actually mandated by law. The first article of the law states that a public safety authority must act as a medium between conflicting parties to keep the peace, Squnaci explained. For the residents of the town, this means that they can come to the police for anything, even if no crime has been committed. “People come talk with me about difficulties they may be having; a quarrel with their neighbors or they ask for suggestions on how to behave or how to solve problems,” Sguanci said.
Building that trust means reaching out to residents at an early age. Every year the police present a program at each grade level of the local middle school. Sguanci speaks to the students in their first year about bullies and standing up for what they know is right.
“I tell them about a positive life model–Giovanni Palatucci,” Sguanci said.
As a soldier who was required to help the Nazis during World War II, Palatucci instead helped Jews escape. Sguanci hopes that the courage of Palatucci will motivate students to stand up for themselves. In the second and third year of the program students learn about chemical dependency and driving safety, encouraging students to make good decisions.
Sguanci believes in the relationship between the residents and the police. “There is a good environment here in Urbino,” he says. “People feel that they can come to us with anything.”