Law and Order With a Smile

Local police in Urbino mete out justice tempered by close relationships with a citizenry they know well.

URBINO, Italy–On a cloudless summer day, Captain Davide Branchesi, 59, navigates his police cruiser through the city’s narrow, cobblestone streets. He stops when he sees a motorcyclist going the wrong way on a one-way street.

“Hey, you can’t do that here,” Branchesi says sternly, according to an interpreter.

Captain Davide Branchesi

Captain Davide Branchesi in his office at the Urbino police station on June 22, 2012. His office wall is covered with pictures of friends and family.

The motorcyclist stares at the salt-and-pepper-haired officer with wide eyes, and mutters an apology. His face relaxes when Branchesi pulls away after giving him only a gentle warning.

With an area of only 88 square miles, Urbino is a small city. Because it is so intimate, the local police officers get to know the citizens well, and it is that personal relationship that marks their enforcing the law.

“What I like most is getting to know people more,” Branchesi says. After being a police officer for 38 years, he believes he knows about 90 percent of the city’s 15,600 citizens. But having such a relationship with the people can make it difficult to issue citations.

Sometimes you’d like to let things go but you can’t.

“Sometimes you’d like to let things go but you can’t,” sighs the lean, six-foot officer. However, sometimes, as with the motorcyclist, the police will let people off with a warning.

Whether issuing a citation or not, he says he tries always to be kind and never arrogant. The city of Urbino earns around 450,000 euro (about $565,300) a year from fines, which is average for a city of its size according to Branchesi.

There are three types of police in Urbino: The national police, or Carabinieri; the provincial police; and the local police. All applicants go through the same process to become members of the force: They are required to have a completely clean record, free of even minor offenses, and must take the same competitive examination. However, the Carabinieri and state police control the nation and province, while Urbino’s local police have authority over the city.

Local Police Officer

A local police officer of Urbino keeping a watchful eye on the Piazza della Repubblica on a Monday afternoon.

The local force consists of only 20 members. In the last 15 to 20 years, Branchesi said those who have retired were not always replaced and their numbers have shrunk from 32. Because Urbino is not a wealthy city and it funds the police, it cannot afford to maintain a large force.

“The beauty of our job is this: Constantly getting to know everyone, to give our services to everyone,” said Branchesi.

City police work six days a week, six hours a day. Once a week, they work nights. On Thursday, the local college students’ party night, the local police patrol the streets. They keep a watchful eye for drunk drivers, prevent littering and vandalism, and make sure that the bars are obeying the ordinances of the city, such as only serving take-away drinks in plastic containers.

Typically, the officers’ day begins in the office. Each day they have a variety of tasks that range from keeping children safe on their way to school to regulating traffic. Usually their days are relatively quiet, but there is always someone at the station to answer calls in an emergency. They can respond to anything from a parking violation to a fallen tree.

Branchesi’s faint wrinkles are a reminder of his age, and although he jokes that he should retire, he continues to work because it’s what he likes best.

I love [my job] because I’m doing it in a city that I love.

“I love [my job] because I’m doing it in a city that I love,” he says, smiling widely, his blue eyes crinkling at their corners. Branchesi has lived in Urbino all his life.

The people are what keep Branchesi young. He explains that in Urbino, “You are always with young people, and with them you live the eternity of youth.”

Branchesi would much rather be patrolling than sitting in an office.

“I love being outside, I love being in the streets,” he says. His love of the outdoors is evident in his leisure activities. Branchesi’s passion is mushroom hunting, and he enjoys being in the woods.

Branchesi is not alone in liking what he does. Oscardo Battisteci, 48, a colleague of Branchesi’s, said that he likes his job, “but sometimes you’re faced with difficult responsibilities.” For example, Branchesi enjoys seeing the college students have fun on Thursdays—as long as they don’t drink to excess—but he and the other officers are responsible for making sure they obey the law and stay safe.

Battisteci believes that to be a good police officer, one must help the people and never say “no” to a call for aid. Both he and Branchesi agree that a good officer understands the habits and psychology of the citizens, and that this is critical to doing their jobs well.

Attilio Fini, 61, an Urbino native, believes that the local police are available when the citizens are in need. Although he has only ever needed them for bureaucratic things, he has noticed they “do their jobs in a positive way and certainly like their jobs.”

On a recent, breezy afternoon, an officer stood watch in the bustling Piazza della Republica. He sees a June graduate being tossed into the fountain by his friends, and hurries over.

He reminds them of the dangers of jumping into the fountain, but softens and gives a friendly hello after recognizing the student. He leaves them laughing to enjoy the rest of their celebration, once again enforcing the law in the affable Urbino way.

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About Jennifer Horab

The experience of reporting in Urbino has given me the opportunity to really get to know the Italian culture. I have enjoyed getting to know the locals and appreciate the chance to study here.