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Milan’s Bent Coppers

One of the triad of Italian police forces, the Milan branch of the municipal police, or Vigili Urbane, is facing allegations of corruption on two fronts at the moment.

Note: For passing Italians who find ‘bent coppers’ difficult to understand – ‘bent coppers’ is slang for ‘corrupt policemen’ (with thanks to reader Judith for pointing out the complexity of my ways).


Some members of Milan’s municipal police, a force which is responsible primarily for traffic control and maintaining public order, are under investigation for having accepted bribes from various pubs and clubs in return for turning a blind eye (deaf ear?) towards incidences of noise pollution and other problems.   Even the head of Milan’s municipal police is under investigation, and may well lose his plum job as a result.

In total, some 15 people are being investigated, including bigwigs at Milan’s city hall by all accounts.  Inquiries into this Milan scandal are still very much in progress.  At the very same time, other inquiries are being conducted into allegations that backhanders were being taken by certain municipal police in Milan in return for allowing local traders to obtain parking spots in front of their stores.

It is, however, the first allegation which caught the eye of my other half and myself, in that we have long suspected collusion in connection with a running battle we’ve been having with a noisy local oldies disco which is on our doorstep.

Then there is the fact that the investigations in progress are symptomatic of a much larger problem in Italy.

Our Local Noise Factory

Some time back, over a year ago, we complained to the local municipal police about the boom boom which was coming from our local noise factory.  The results were mixed.  Responses from the local bobbies were often along the lines of ‘We’ll get there when we can, we’re busy at the moment.’.  Ah ha.  Were they ‘busy’ because someone at city hall told them to be so?  After the allegations into the bribery of local police and city hall officials, it is possible that this was the case.  No way, of course, of proving this.

What was even more interesting though, was that whenever we had technicians out to monitor the sound levels produced by the bands propelling the rocking oldies around the not exactly apollonian establishment’s dance floor, the music always seemed to be at a much lower level than before.  Getting to sleep before 2 am was, and still is, just about impossible for me.  Even when an official control took place by the bods from ARPA, Italy’s environmental monitoring agency, the disco music remained at surprisingly low levels.

Oddly enough, once the ARPA people had pronounced their judgement, which was that we could not do a fat lot because of the noise produced by passing trams, the sound from the noisy disco returned to the levels we loved to hate.  And this was despite works which were carried out to the disco supposedly to improve levels of sound insulation.  During the period when sound levels were being checked, a little bird whispered in our ears that people within Milan’s council were apparently in league with the disco’s owners.  The investigations mentioned at the start of this post would seem to bear this hypothesis out.

On the basis of the recent investigations, my other half is all for having another go at quietening down the disco once more.  Not sure whether anything will come of this, but at least it is worth a try, and is eminently preferable to instructing a lawyer to bring a civil case against the disco’s owners, as this will a) cost a bomb, b) take aeons, and c) not necessarily work.  Sounds as though the only answers are ear plugs or moving house.

Anyway, we shall be keeping an eye on the progress of the corruption investigations which are taking place as I write this.

Unfortunately, it is not much of a surprise that Milan’s municipal police are facing accusations of corruption and abuse of office.

One Possible Reason for Milan’s Bent Coppers

To join Milan’s municipal enforcers of local law and order, one must do one of Italy’s famed ‘concorsi‘ which is a form of selection exam.  The trouble is that passing the exam is no guarantee of entry into the local police force.  Oh no.  To land a job you see, you need to know someone, or know someone who knows someone else.  You get the idea, I’m sure.  It is possibly true to say that unless you have a ‘sponsor’ it is probably not worth bothering to do the exam, for even if you do, you may not pass unless your name is familiar to the examiners.

Then there is the danger that certain ‘sponsors’ have connections to certain infamous Italian organisations.  As a consequence of this complication, some of the people who end up in Italy’s local police forces, and the national ones, for that matter, report to two bosses.  One is official, whereas the other has connections to a large family.  You know, that family whose name begins with an ‘m’ and ends with an ‘a’.  Hence the reason why Italy has such a problem with organised crime and corruption.

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Another result of this complex, but cosy connivance, is that all this nepotism and cronyism inevitably leads to favours being called in.  Of course if there is the chance of a few Euros to be made, then that makes it even easier to convince people to cooperate.  Other times though, such favours may lead to rather more unpleasant events, such as the murder of people who have been getting rather too close to something which others wish to keep very quiet.

Those investigating the corruption allegations may unearth some rather cosy relationships between Milan’s city hall bigwigs, but only if they ask the right questions.  It is also likely that if the investigations risk touching very high level figures in Milan’s local government, then the whole thing may well devolve into one big whitewash.  Back to square one.

A Situation Common To Italy

In case you were wondering, the situation, and associated dangers, concerning Milan’s police force, sponsors and all, is common throughout Italy, right on up to national politics.  Take Genoa, for example.  My other half, who hails from this coastal city, told me ages ago that finding a job there is nigh on impossible unless you know someone who can put in a good word for you.  The Genoa syndrome, as we’ll call it, affects both the city’s public and private sectors.

Murdered anti-mafia judges Borsellino and Falconi
Murdered anti-mafia judges Borsellino and Falconi

Thinking about it, it is really no surprise that Italy is a nation of entrepreneurs and small businessmen, in that if you cannot find work you have but two options: remain unemployed, or start your own business, means permitting, of course.  Family businesses also ensure that offspring have jobs, so at least they won’t have to face the trauma of looking for one.

Having your own business also enables you to make contacts, which in turn, can be used to help assure the future of your sons and daughters, and so the vicious circle continues in perpetuity.  As a consequence, levels of corruption are perhaps higher in Italy than in countries which have finally come to the realisation that the old-boy stroke old school tie networks are not always that conducive to efficiency, productivity, and, for that matter, profitability.

Then, as hinted to before, we have the uglier extension of this vast social network, the mafia.  The mafia has managed to exploit Italy’s cosy friendship system to the maximum, which is why its dark tentacles reach into the very heart of Italy’s systems, and end up destroying honest crusaders such as Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falconi.

Incidentally, the Borsellino murder case has been reopened, and fingers appear to be pointing towards collusion between Italy’s secret services and the mafia.  Yet politicians from Falconi and Borsellino times are still within the Italian parliament today.  It’s no wonder really that the mafia problem in Italy has never really diminished.

Levels of Despondency

This endless Italian cycle which revolves around friendships and contacts, both legitimate and not so,  is also one of the reasons for the levels of despondency which are evident in the young people at the business school where I work.

Many of the graduates do master courses because it helps them get a foot in the door and allows them to build some semblance of a career, after having worked as a zero or low paid ‘stagista’ – intern – for two to three years.  For those who have put in some effort, or have been encouraged by doting parents to learn an extra language or two, finding a decent job in Italy can be easier, in that foreign companies are less likely to be prone to ‘friendship’ based employment policies.

Why So Many Italians Headed to the USA

Could the complex network of cosy relationships also explain why so many Italians have emigrated to the United States of America and other places over the years ?  Quite possibly.  Indeed, there is no shortage of Italian-Americans who have done rather well for themselves in a country where there are higher levels of meritocracy.  Even now, Italians head out of Italy in search of fame and fortune, or simply to find a reasonably paid job.  If, of course, they know other languages.

So you see the current problems facing Milan’s local police are quite representative of what goes on throughout modern Italy.  Italians are aware of the situation, which is why people such as Italian comedian and activist Beppe Grillo have such a following.  Hope springs eternal.


Italy’s Polizia Municipale – Wikipedia entry in English

Locali notturni, lo scandalo delle mazzette – Pubs and Clubs, the Backhander Scandal – L’Espresso – in Italian

Fabbricavano e vendevano falsi pass per la sosta, denunciati 16 vigili – 16 Local Police Charged with Making and Selling False Parking Permits –  Corriere della Sera – in Italian

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