Ciao and nihao: Chinese cops, polizia on joint patrol in Italy

Shanghai police officer Bai Wenchao was part of a 10-strong team of Chinese police officers dispatched to patrol Italian tourist hotpots in June.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Bai Wenchao (left) and his colleague patrol the Jing'an s Temple area in Shanghai.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Bai Wenchao shows a passer-by the way at Jing'an Temple.

Bai Wenchao was never a coffee drinker until last summer. Now he loves an occasional cup of strong espresso.

His change of taste came after he spent 20 days in Milan as part of a joint China-Italy police patrol exchange program.

Bai, 31, was part of a 10-strong team of Chinese police officers dispatched to patrol Italian tourist hotpots in June, both to make Chinese tourists feel safe and to assist them if they encounter crime-related problems. The officers patrolled in Rome, Milan, Florence and Naples — favorite destinations of the 3 million Chinese who visit Italy every year.

Their patrol routes were certainly scenic, including the Colosseum in Rome and the Gothic Milan Cathedral.

Bai patrolled the tourist areas of Milan with Chen Qiang, a Chinese UN peacekeeper and SWAT member from the city of Weihai in Shandong Province. He brought a strong talent to the assignment. He speaks fluent Italian.

Bai graduated with a major of Italian from the Shanghai International Studies University in 2009. At the time, the Public Security Bureau was preparing police protection ahead of World Expo 2010 Shanghai. Encouraged by his parents, Bai enrolled in the police college.

It wasn’t easy for a university student to adapt to the military style of life at the college.

“I had to strictly follow the schedule and was forced to do housekeeping chores,” he says. “Many of my classmates were retried soldiers, who were a lot stronger than me. It caused me some nervousness at first.”

However, Bai had something few others possessed. He spoke a foreign language other than English. That talent was tapped for Shanghai Expo duties during his intern training period. He was assigned to maintain security at the Spain Pavilion.

“Italian and Spanish are similar languages,” he says. “It worked really well. People always want to talk to those who speak the same language.”

In February 2011, he was recruited by the Jing’an police as a SWAT team member. In 2015, he was transferred to the Economic Crime Investigation Department.

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Bai Wenchao (center) walks with his Italian counterparts in Milan.

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Chinese tourists are happy to see uniformed Chinese police officers at the iconic Milan Cathedral.

The police-patrol exchange program began with a two-week trial in 2016, when four Chinese officers became the first-ever uniformed Chinese officers to patrol Italian streets. The aim was to determine if their presence made any difference to Chinese living in Italy and to those on holiday there. The program proved a success.

“It was very exciting for me to be able to contribute to international understanding,” Bai says of his time in Milan.

This year, the police patrol exchange program added a new twist. A hotline was established especially for Chinese. The number was posted on the website of the Chinese consulates and embassy.

“We received more than 100 calls,” Bai says. “Most were inquiries about travel routes or requests to help Chinese tourists communicate with Italian police about crimes.”

“For example, an overseas student lost his ID documents,” he explains. “He was told that he could get the new documents in 60 working days. However, he needed to fly home immediately because of family issues. So, we explained the situation to Italian police, and for the first time, they issued temporary ID documents for a Chinese.”

The team in Naples, where robbery and theft are big headaches, helped a local Chinese business group install closed-circuit video cameras in Chinatown to help reduce crime in the area.

“I heard that the crime rate decreased noticeably in the three months since the cameras were installed,” Bai says.

Now back home, he keeps in touch with Italian police officers he befriended.

“While in Milan, we went to local Chinese supermarkets and bought food to make a traditional hotpot,” Bai says.

“We invited Italian police officers to eat with us. Most of them didn’t like it much, but one officer, whose parents moved to Wenzhou before he was born, really liked the food. He is now the one and only Italian-born Chinese police officer in Italy.”

Bai was happy to sample Italian food and culture. “I like espresso most,” says the father of an infant son.

The exchange program is a two-way street. Italy sent four Italian police officers to tourist spots in Beijing and Shanghai earlier this year to help any Italian tourists in need of assistance. Like their Chinese counterparts in Italy, the officers were unarmed and could not make arrests.

Starting next year, the joint patrol program will be extended to Croatia.

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Bai Wenchao (right) helps Italian police handle a credit card fraud case reported by a Chinese living in Italy.

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