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Italian legislation regulates the type of weaponry that may be used by the police to control and restore public order according to the weapons’ features and the circumstances of their use.  The basic weapons classifications distinguish between individual, departmental, and special weapons.  In addition to these, other more sophisticated and heavy weapons may be used by the police.  The use of weapons by the police must be adequate and proportionate to the requirements posed by the protection of the public order and safety, the prevention and punishment of crime, and other institutional duties. The Criminal Code exempts police personnel from criminal responsibility when they use their weapons in the line of duty.  Currently there is a debate in Italy concerning the potential use of less-lethal weapons by the police.

I.  Introduction

The Italian Constitution provides that the state has exclusive legislative powers in matters concerning “state security; armaments, ammunition, and explosives.”[1]

The main police forces in Italy are the National Police, the Carabinieri, the Financial Crime Investigation Unit, and the Penitentiary Police Corps.[2]  The National Police provides general police services throughout Italy, and has police stations in every major city and town.  The National Police also includes specialty services such as traffic, railway, postal and telecommunications, and border and immigration police.[3]  The Carabinieri is a military police force with both military responsibilities and general responsibility for maintaining civilian public order within Italy.  The Carabinieri includes a Special Operations Group, a Mobile Units Division (which includes a group that conducts SWAT operations), and specialized units in charge of economically, environmentally, and socially sensitive issues.[4]  The Financial Crime Investigation Unit, under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, addresses financial crimes, organized crime, smuggling, international drug trafficking, illegal immigration, terrorist financing, and copyright violations.[5]  The Penitentiary Police Corps provide security over penal institutions.[6]  In addition to these national police forces, some provinces in Italy have provincial and municipal police forces.[7] 

Royal Decree Nos. 773 and 635[8] and Law No. 110 of 1975 regulate weapons, munitions, and explosives of the “Armed Forces and the Armed Corps of the State,”[9] and provide that authorization is required to use them.  While the phrase “Armed Corps of the State” includes the police, these provisions exempt the police from the need to receive authorization to use weapons, weapon parts, ammunition, and explosives in the exercise of their duties.[10] 

Presidential Decree No. 359 of 1991 sets forth rules governing what weapons are available to the National Police.[11]  It states that the use of weapons must be adequate and proportionate to the protection of the public order and safety, the prevention and punishment of crime, and other institutional duties.[12]  

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II.  Police Weapons and Equipment

A.  National Police

Presidental Decree No. 359 states that certain weapons may be provided to individual officers, and that other categories of weapons may be provided to police departments to be used in a manner determined by the department.[13]

1. Individual Weapons

Certain specified personnel of the Italian National Police are duly authorized to bear arms.[14]  Those personnel may carry and use an “individual weapon,” which consists of a semiautomatic handgun corresponding to the characteristics established in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 359 and by decree of the Chief of Police.[15] 

2.  Departmental Weapons

Departments of the National Police may also avail themselves of other weapons or equipment, to be distributed to police personnel according to the needs of the department.[16]  The personnel who may receive such departmental weapons are subject to mandatory training in their use.[17]  These weapons and equipment include billy clubs, smooth-bore rifles, rifle-bored shotguns or rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and launchers, all of which must correspond to the characteristics set forth in articles 11–18 of Presidential Decree No. 359[18] and be specifically identified by decree of the Chief of Police.[19]

3.  Special Equipment

National Police personnel may be authorized to use special weapons and equipment upon obtaining a certificate of specific skills.[20]  In situations of grave necessity and urgency, the questore (superintendent—a provincial authority in charge of public safety) or other high-ranking officer may authorize the use of  special weapons and equipment by personnel who do not have the appropriate certifications for their use.[21]  Such special equipment includes portable arms, collective arms, bombs, self-propelled munitions, launching devices, and explosives that satisfy the applicable legal requirements.[22]

B.  Local Police Forces

While Italy has some provincial and municipal police forces,[23] no special rules for them were found.

C.  Special Police Forces and SWAT Teams

No rules on special police forces or SWAT teams were found.

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III.  Rules on the Use of Police Weapons

The use of weapons by the police must be adequate and proportionate to the requirements posed by the protection of the public order and safety, the prevention and punishment of crime, and other institutional duties.[24]  In addition, police are subject to other duties and responsibilities concerning the use of weapons.  Police must (a) diligently secure their weapons and responsibly maintain them;[25] (b) carry out in all circumstances the security measures established for the handling of the weapon;[26] and (c) receive training, actively practice the techniques learned, and participate in drills organized by the authorities.[27]  With respect to departmental weapons, (a) weapons must be kept in an armory according to the operational needs of the police;[28] (b) armories must comply with technical requirements that ensure their restricted access and safety;[29] and (c) weapons must be kept in armories in metal structures that are technically appropriate and in a suitable environment, and in a quantity strictly necessary for the performance of daily police duties.[30]

Under the Italian Criminal Code, public officers cannot be punished for using or authorizing the use of a weapon or other means of physical coercion in the line of duty in order to overcome resistance to authority or prevent violent acts or crimes such as murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, kidnapping or drowning someone, or causing a shipwreck, aviation disaster, or train wreck.[31] 

The Italian Military Code of Peace contains a similar provision concerning military personnel.[32]

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IV.  Recent Incidents

There has been some recent debate in Italy concerning the use of nonlethal or less-lethal weapons (LLWs) by the police.[33]  Several incidents have been reported in which police lacking nonlethal weapons have been placed in the dilemma of either using lethal force against a suspect in order to prevent the suspect from harming innocent bystanders or doing nothing.[34]  The debate has brought out potential problems with the use of LLWs, such as the potential lethality of LLWs when improperly used.[35]  Municipal police in Italy are also reportedly resorting to the wide-spread use of pepper spray.[36]  Ultimately, the decision of whether the national police will use LLWs will be made by the political branches of government in Italy.[37]

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Dante Figueroa
Senior Legal Information Analyst
September 2014


[1] Constitution of the Italian Republic art. 117(d), English version published by the Parliamentary Information, Archives and Publications Office of the Senate Service for Official Reports and Communication, https://www. senato.it/documenti/repository/istituzione/costituzione_inglese.pdf.

[2] Policing Profiles of Participating and Partner States: Italy, OSCEPolis, http://polis.osce.org/countries/details? item_id=23 (last updated May 22, 2007).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Regio Decreto 6 maggio 1940, n. 635 Approvazione del regolamento per l’esecuzione del testo unico 18 giugno 1931-IX, n. 773, delle leggi di pubblica sicurezza [Royal Decree No. 635 of May 6, 1940, Approval of the Regulations for the Implementation of Royal Decree No. 773 of June 18, 1931, Consolidated Public Safety Laws], Gazzetta Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana [G.U.] No. 149, June 26, 1940, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:regio.decreto:1940-05-06;635.

[9] Legge 18 aprile 1975, n. 110, Norme integrative della disciplina vigente per il controllo delle armi, delle munizioni e degli esplosivi [Law No. 110 of April 18, 1975, Additional Provisions Related to the Control of Arms, Ammunition and Explosives] art. 30, G.U. No. 105, Apr. 21, 1975, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir: stato:legge:1975-04-18;110!vig.

[10] Law No. 110 art. 30, para. 1.

[11] Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica 5 ottobre 1991, n. 359, Regolamento che stabilisce i criteri per la determinazione dell’armamento in dotazione all’Amministrazione della pubblica sicurezza e al personale della Polizia di Stato che espleta funzioni di polizia [Decree of the President of the Republic No. 359, of October 5, 1991, Regulations Establishing the Criteria for Determining Armaments Furnished for the Maintenance of Public Security and to Personnel of the State Police Who Perform Police Functions] [D.P.R. 359] art. 1, G.U. No. 264, Nov. 11, 1991, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:presidente.repubblica:decreto:1991-10-05;359.

[12] Id. art. 1(1).

[13] Id. art. 2.

[14] Id. art. 3(2).

[15] Id. arts. 3(2), 10.

[16] Id. art. 4.

[17] Id. art. 8(1).

[18] Id. arts. 8(2), 11–18.

[19] Id. art. 8(2).

[20] Id. art. 9(1).

[21] Id. art. 9(2).

[22] Id. art. 9(3).

[23] OSCEPolis, supra note 2.

[24] Id. art. 1(1).

[25] Id. art. 6(1)(a).

[26] Id. art. 6(1)(b).

[27] Id. art. 6(1)(c).

[28] Id. art. 7(1).

[29] Id. art. 7(3).

[30] Id. art. 7(4).

[31] Codice di penale [C.P.] [Criminal Code] art. 53, available at http://www.altalex.com/index.php?idnot=2205.

[33] Alessandro Bottoni, Armi non letali per la Polizia, Alex’s Brain Dump: Il blog di Alessandro Bottoni (Sept. 8, 2014, 10:32 AM), http://www.alexbottoni.com/2014/09/03/armi-non-letali-per-la-polizia/.

[34] Tre omicidi con il piccone, Kabobo condannato a 20 anni, Milano Cronaca: Corriere della Sera (May 11, 2013), http://milano.corriere.it/notizie/cronaca/14_aprile_15/tre-omicidi-il-piccone-kabobo-condannato-20-anni-85bd8614-c47d-11e3-9713-8cc973aa686e.shtml; Jesi, quei selfie dei passanti mentre l’uomo con il machete semina terrore in strada, La Stampa Cronache (Sept. 2, 2014), http://www.lastampa.it/2014/09/02/italia/ cronache/jesi-minaccia-i-passanti-armato-di-due-machete-selfie-dei-curiosi-nonostante-il-terrore-4tIalbVB25q95 BhhTq7XbP/pagina.html; Franco Vanni, Milano, va in giro con la spranga e minaccia la gente. “Ma non riusciamo a neutralizzarlo, R.it MILANO (Aug. 28, 2014), http://milano.repubblica.it/cronaca/2014/08/28/news/milano_va _in_giro_con_la_spranga_e_minaccia_la_gente_ma_non_riusciamo_a_neutralizzarlo-94545563/.

[35] Bottoni, supra note 33.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015