An anti-crime measure in Italy has some 3,000 troops taking up positions and patrolling streets in cities across the country Monday. But can the military help cut crime?
Italian soldiers now patrol parts of Rome, Naples, and Milan
The controversial deployment of nearly 3,000 troops throughout Italy was introduced by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right government as a move that would help combat crime. The government, which took office in April after Berlusconi successfully campaigned on a law-and-order platform, has linked crime and illegal immigration and passed a series of measures aimed at cracking down on both.
To that end, the government began a six-month deployment of hundreds of troops who now join local police forces in urban centers like Rome, Naples, and Milan, according to press reports from those cities.
Another 1,000 of the troops went to embassies, railway stations, churches, and other sensitive places where tourists tend to congregate. The soldiers there have been authorized to only make arrests when they catch people actually committing a crime.
The remaining third have been sent to guard holding centers for illegal immigrants. On the island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants have arrived from Africa in recent months seeking to enter Europe, 70 air force troops were supplementing police who patrol the perimeter of a reception center.
Troops were likewise deployed to the immigrant holding center at Lampedusa
Claims of increased security have opposition crying foul
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the anti-immigrant Northern League said he wants to "give the public a better perception of security."
Opposition leaders have criticized the move, however, labeling it as "propaganda" and questioning its effectiveness in combating crime. They have argued instead that more funds and other resources should have been provided to the police.
A union representing the police, Coisp, also slammed the decision, and in a statement welcomed the fact that no soldiers are to be deployed in Venice.
"We're off the hook (in Venice) because for every three soldiers deployed, one police or carabinieri (paramilitary police) needs to be provided as backup," Coisp said in a statement.
"Where are we going to find extra police?" Coisp asked, lamenting what it said was a scarcity of fuel for police squad cars and a lack of overtime pay for police officers.
Rome rejects "militarization" of its city center
Rome's mayor won't allow troops in the city's historic district
Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno likewise hit back, refusing to allow the troops to patrol the historic city center, where the majority of tourists spend their time. He said he feared that the "militarization" of the capital would scare away visitors.
Officials, however, downplayed the decision to draft in troops.
"In 1992, 20,000 men were sent to Sicily alone" to aid police in fighting the Mafia after the murder of two judges, deputy chief of the general staff General Mario Buscemi was quoted by daily La Repubblica as saying.
In comparision, this smaller deployment would be minor and essentially symbolic, he said.