CASERTA, Italy — It’s not the Wild West, but crime is high in Caserta province, home to many Americans living in the Naples area and where the Navy’s Gricignano base housing is located.

Important to note, however, is that Americans aren’t targeted simply because they’re Americans, U.S. and Italian officials said.

“I’m not overwhelmed every day by reports of American homes being burglarized” and Americans being the victims of crime, said Deborah Rocco, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Naval Support Activity, Naples. “There is no indication that Americans are being targeted.”

And if Americans are the unfortunate victims of crime, typically it’s a crime against property, the officials said.

About 160 American families live off base in the province in towns popular with Americans, such as Succivo, Aversa, Casal di Principe and Marcianise.

Of Italy’s 108 provinces, Caserta routinely ranks in the daily top 10 of arrests made, which can be linked directly to the high number of crimes being committed, said Col. Carmelo Burgio, provincial commander of the Caserta carabinieri station.

To put that statistic into perspective, a portion of Tuesday’s national police blotter of arrests read as follows: Police in the province of Rome, which includes the capital’s suburbs and boasts a population of 3.6 million people, netted 34 arrests; the southern province of Bari, with a population of 1.5 million, reported eight arrests; the province of Naples, with 3 million population, reported six arrests; and Caserta, with 900,000 people, logged four arrests.

Burgio said crime in Caserta province could be simplified into two categories: organized crime and everything else. Residents’ biggest threats are “petty crimes” such as break-ins, stolen cars, or Gypsies slipping hands into pockets and purses to steal wallets, he said.

Several factors contribute to the high crime rate, including the easy and speedy highway access from downtown Naples for drug traffickers, a high unemployment rate, and the high number of illegal immigrants who can’t find work and resort to petty crimes, Burgio said.

Crooks go after soft and vulnerable targets, Rocco said, along with targets of opportunity. She said common sense goes a long, long way toward protecting oneself.

Home protection tips

Americans living on the economy can protect their homes by either installing protective measures themselves — if not already available — or trying to persuade their landlords to do so, Burgio said.

“The best protection is physical protection,” Burgio said. Three of the best are protective bars on windows, armored doors and strong locks. Many renters and Italian owners lean toward installing an alarm system that is linked directly through phone lines to local police and carabinieri stations. When tripped, it sends an automatic emergency message.

Landlords often are receptive to installing protective devices since they increase the value of homes and attract American renters, Burgio said.

When traveling, it’s best to make the home looked lived in, he said, by keeping a light on or having a friend stop by every so often.

Tips for shoppers

When out on the town, don’t draw attention to yourself by showing off lots of cash or wearing flashy or expensive jewelry, he said. If shopping and you need to carry cash, store small amounts in various pockets to avoid pulling out a large wad. If women can avoid carrying a purse, that’s best; otherwise, make sure the purse fits snugly under an arm.

“[To criminals, victims] are no different, whether they are American or Italian,” Burgio said. “[Some criminals] need money for drugs and when they see targets, they attack.”

Protecting vehicles

Southern Italians, particularly Neapolitans, are notorious for protecting their vehicles from theft by installing devices such as alarms and steering column blocks.

An ironic twist is that the protection helped contribute to the increased number of carjackings, Burgio said.

Since it’s more difficult for thieves to steal a protected parked car, they’ve resorted to taking them when protective devices aren’t in use — when the driver is behind the wheel.

To avoid carjackings, motorists always should drive with their doors locked, shut off the engine and take keys with them when leaving the vehicle, and drive to a safe and well-lighted area if they believe they’ve been involved in a minor traffic collision. Carjackers routinely fake a crash to get the driver to step out of their vehicles, officials have reported.

If approached by a carjacker, hand over the keys, Burgio strongly urged.

“They … are likely to use violence and they are able to kill,” he said.

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