Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The experimental plan is the first of its kind in the world.
Sending the police in to banish centurions from outside the Coliseum last month clearly wasn’t enough for the city of Rome. Now Italy’s capital has introduced a new force to patrol its most famous ancient monument: police officers brought in from China.
In the first ever arrangement of this kind with a European state (despite some initial discussions two years ago about creating a similar scheme in Paris), the People’s Republic of China has sent four law enforcement officers to patrol major tourist areas in Italy’s two largest cities, Rome and Milan, for an experimental two-week trial.
The sight of Chinese police uniforms on their streets might prove a little confusing to local Italians, but their safety is not really these officers’ concern. They’ve been deployed to help Chinese tourists, of which Italy receives over three million annually.
Visitors from China may indeed need a little helping out. Italy’s reputation as a destination for wealthy Chinese who come to spend big at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana can make them targets for pickpockets, and even hold-ups. The primary purpose of the police exchange, however, seems to be creating positive publicity. Sending out the message to potential Chinese visitors that they will have someone from home looking out for them can’t do Italy any harm from an economic standpoint, and comes just as the country is streamlining its tourist visa application process.
The idea of police patrols that ostensibly lie under the jurisdiction of a foreign state—and one with a poor human rights record to boot—may worry some, but a tiny clutch of officers keeping an eye out for bag thieves hardly seems like the thin end of a dangerous wedge, even if it turns out to be the beginning of a wider cooperation (the two countries are also exploring working together more closely on issues such as counterfeit designer bags, and more broadly in the fight against terrorism and organized crime). In the meantime, any fears that Chinese police far from home might be too busy dealing with their own culture shock to help out their countrypeople appears to be unnecessary: early reports suggest candidates have been carefully chosen. “For me, this is a bit like coming home,” one of the Chinese officers told Corriere della Sera. “Me and a colleague [here] have both spoken Italian since we were kids—I went to middle school in Modena.”