The Charger Blog

Criminal Justice Students Studying in Italy Visit Local Police Station

As part of their criminal justice class, several students spending the semester at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, learned firsthand about the differences between how police in the United States and Italy operate.

February 28, 2023

By Katherine Casson ’24, Maya Ciaffaglione ’25, Morgan Desatnick ’24, Christine Failla ’25, Alexander Mannetta ’25, and Alexander Riccardo ’25

Prof. Daniel Maxwell (center) and students check out a mock crime scene at the police station.
Prof. Daniel Maxwell (center) and students check out a mock crime scene at the police station.

Several students studying abroad in Italy this semester recently visited the Questura Police Station in Prato, where they learned about everything from the tools and equipment that Italian police use to how they monitor the areas in their jurisdictions. They visited with their professor, Daniel Maxwell, MPA, a distinguished lecturer of criminal justice and a retired police officer who is teaching at the University’s Prato, Italy, campus this semester.

Below, several students reflect on the experience and discuss what they learned.

Katherine Casson ’24

I enjoyed visiting the police station. I found the experience very informative, and it was interesting to see all the similarities and differences between it and U.S. police stations. The cameras around the entire city were very interesting because they capture every angle. The Italian police could catch suspicious activity before it is even called in.

I was also fascinated by the different police divisions patrolling various parts of the city. Last semester in my intro to policing class, I learned that most American police officers are assigned to the same “beat” or section of the city, and they are assigned to patrol the same area. However, in Italy, the five police divisions rotate their patrol area daily. For example, the carabiner won’t patrol the same section of the city for two days.

I could see many pros and cons to the alternating method. A pro would be that there is a new pair of eyes looking around the city each day, limiting biases or enabling them to pick up on details that were not noticed the day prior. However, a pro to the American system would be that patrolling the same area daily gives the officer a chance to familiarize themselves with the area. When someone is in the same place every day, it is easier to pick up on things that are out of the norm.

The police cars we saw are very similar to American police cars, besides the fact that the Italians use tablets to run license plates and additional information rather than big laptops. The Italian criminal justice system also does not hold people on bail when they are arrested. Visiting the police station was a great learning experience.

Maya Ciaffaglione ’25

While visiting the Questura Police Station, I have learned a lot. One of the most interesting things to me was as we were being shown the command room, they explained how they also get directed the emergency calls.

Another thing that I found interesting was how the Italian police use the Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, to help identify suspects based on their DNA. One thing that surprised me about the Italians is they started using CODIS in the early 2000s, while the United States started using CODIS in the late 1990s. One thing that I didn’t expect between the U.S. police and the Italian police is that the Italian police may only have one unit patrolling an area, while in the U.S. there are typically many.

I was interested to learn why there are multiple different types of police cars and who decides what type of car is chosen. The reason for the different types of cars is that certain cars are used to patrol certain areas. The smaller cars will be used on narrower streets while the bigger cars with higher horsepower will be used on highways and wider streets. The types of cars that are added to the fleet are decided by the director of that department.

Chargers with an Italian police car outside the station.
Chargers with an Italian police car outside the station.
Morgan Desatnick ’24

At the Questura Police Station, I really enjoyed learning about the differences between the American and Italian justice systems. It was really cool to see the room with all of the video camera footage. I was not aware that the officers were always keeping watch over Prato.

My favorite part of the tour was the room with the crime scene set up. Taking information about investigations that we had learned during class and watching investigators, even in a different country, perform these actions was very cool. The officers made this portion interactive, allowing us to compare fingerprints, which was a fun challenge.

It's very interesting to learn about the crime rates in Italy, specifically pertaining to homicides, since they are much lower than those in the United States. Overall, I really enjoyed seeing the police station and learning how the Italian police perform different duties.

Christine Failla ’25

One of the most interesting facts I learned about the Questura Police Station was how many patrol cars are out at a time. There are only five patrolling, one for each zone of Prato. This was very interesting because in America there are so many always around, so to only see such a small number is very interesting.

A police motorcycle outside the station.
A police motorcycle outside the station.

With that, a lot of the differences between Italian and American policing were very surprising. For instance, they have fewer police stations as well as officers because there is much less crime in Italy, versus America, where there are 18,000 stations to account for all of the crime. A lot of this is because guns and knives are illegal in Italy, so they have fewer violent crimes involving those weapons than in America.

I also found it interesting that the different stations dealt with different crimes. The station we visited handled criminal activity only, while the municipal police handled car accidents. This is much different from America where one station handles all of these situations and more. However, when it comes to investigations, we do use similar methods for analyzing a crime scene, even using the same database, the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS).

The patrol cars did differ though, as the Italian ones don't have large laptops, opting instead for smaller tablets. On the subject of cars, what I didn't expect to learn was the fact that there are only two Lamborghini cop cars in Italy, and one is used for organ transplant transportation. I also didn't expect to see sleeping in the station a neighborhood cat that they named Panther after their mascot the black panther.

When it comes to questions, looking back I wish I had asked what happens during an arrest, specifically in place of Miranda rights, but I didn't think of it until later. However, I did ask about bail, since they mentioned they typically let people go before trial unless it is absolutely necessary to keep them detained. They didn't even know what the word was, and it doesn't even exist in Italy, so that was really interesting to find out since America constantly debates it.

Overall, it was a really cool and interesting experience to visit the station.

Alexander Mannetta ’25

I am very grateful that I was lucky enough to be taken along and experience visiting the Questura Police Station with my class. From being able to see how both the carabinieri and polizia municipale operate in the city of Prato and how it compares and contrasts to the police force within the U.S. was very interesting.

I was shocked to find out how similar both the Italian police as well as the police of the U.S use many of the same techniques, especially when applying in forensic-based and investigative services. I assumed that some of the investigative techniques used by the Italians would be quite different, but that was not the case. From how they start the investigation of a crime scene to the final steps, it was very similar.

I also enjoyed seeing the police cruisers and thought it was very cool they use Alpha Romeo cars as one of their main vehicles of transportation. I also found it interesting once I walked into the dispatch room. My attention was grasped seeing all the screens that were linked to about 170 different street cameras set up in Prato. Keeping track of nearly every area in the city from one room is very intriguing.

Alexander Riccardo ’25

During the visit to Questura Police Station, I learned a lot about the way Italian policing works. Something that I found very interesting was the way the police cars were set up. The cars actually had handcuffs in the back with one cuffed to a pole, and the other for someone’s hand. The cars also had a lot of space as there wasn't too much visible equipment.

One thing I did not expect was the number of cameras that were around Prato. When going into the dispatch room with all of the cameras, I was very surprised to see how many cameras there were. There were cameras in places that I never knew had them, and even when I went to look afterwards to see if I could find some, I couldn't find many.

Italian and American policing is very different, but one of the biggest differences that I picked up on was how they really had two police forces in the polizia and the carabinieri. They split up shifts and jurisdictions between the two, and I found that very unique. Overall, it was a very educational and fun trip.

Katherine Casson ’24, Maya Ciaffaglione ’25, Morgan Desatnick ’24, Christine Failla ’25, Alexander Mannetta ’25, and Alexander Riccardo ’25 are criminal justice majors at the University who are studying abroad at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, this semester.