#12 Falchi

September 25, 2013

The organized crime system oppressing the city of Naples, Italy is known as the camorra. The Neapolitan bingo game in which each number codifies a secret meaning is known as tombola. This is the camorra’s tombola.

The number 12 means “soldier” in the bingo halls of Naples, city of racketeering. In 1975, several young people from southern Italy were recruited by Naples’ police headquarters to become the first members of a special, plainclothes mobile unit created by then-commissioner Pasquale Colombo to fight crime in areas where common police could not go.

This is how the falchi or “hawks” were born and baptized, nearly 40 years ago. Divided into teams, each controlling a high-risk area; disguised to look just like the shoplifters they catch in the act, with nicknames like Hulk or Maradona; contemporary falchi look nothing like nice, friendly patrolmen. With no small sense of cinematographic romance, this band of committed spirits have built themselves an aura of legend to became the nightmare of the Neapolitan underground.

Fighting gunfire with gunfire, moving around the city on motorbikes (“It’s the only quick way to deal against an even quicker criminality,” explains Fulvio Filocamo, assistant commissioner of the Neapolitan police), Naples falchi call their Guzzis and Ducatis “butterflies” or “owls”.  People in Naples describe the feeling of falchi surveillance with the saying, “They aren’t coming, they’re already here,” and the hawklike presence has had an incalculable effect in slowing down illegal trade and crime. After their success in Naples, falchi units were opened in all major cities in Italy.


Illustration: Fanqiao Wang