Tattoos as Clues

Muñoz, Isabel. Retrato. 2006. Centro Cultural de México Contemporáneo, Mexico City. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

There is a group of people loitering around an area where gang activity is common, police then drive by looking for gang connects. They look at the clothing or listen to the music but one surefire way to track gang members is by looking at their body art. A tattoo is spotted so the police stop and ask to take a picture of the group, promising to supply a copy. The group agrees and huddles around throwing up gang signs and exposing tattoos. The police head back to the station and add the pictures to an anthology that helps to track gangs.

When the word tracking is said, the image of dogs following a know criminal is one of the first mental pictures that appear. This is not the only way that people are tracked however. Police can use gang culture and their use of tattoos as a tracking device. Gangs can be recognized based on clothing, music, location and affiliation. These are valid ways to track gangs, but can be ineffective since these factors are also a part of the pop culture currently (Kim). Tattoos are becoming a larger part of pop culture, so differentiating between the types and reasons for the body art has now become important. Police must distinguish between pop culture tattoos and ones that are used for deeper or more ceremonial meanings.


Weber, Jim. 2009. Memphis, Tennesee. The Common Appeal. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

People often have a story behind their tattoos but some only have them because of a drunken blackout or pressure from their friends. People can see tattoos as primitive or dysfunctional, because the use has been sporadic through history only occurring in times of need or trouble mostly to show deviants in society (Palermo 2). Tattoos traditionally have a deeper meaning. A common person, a psychologist, or other professional may analyze the tattoo although the full meaning may not be understood by anyone other than the owner (Palermo 2). Now people either have very little personal connection to their tattoo or get one because they think that it is what everyone else is doing. They want to be part of the norm. Others have legitimate reasons behind their tattoos, but have had their connection to the art that they have chosen demeaned by the pop culture world of ink.

It has been said that since tattoos are placed on the skin, which is the “outer ego” of a person, they are meant to be read and looked at as a reflection of the internal being (Palermo 2). Although this may not always be true now, police are trying to utilize this idea of reading tattoos in order to keep a closer watch on gangs and gang members. Tattooing practices change rapidly, but tattoos can still have strong meanings and can be a resource for those reading the marks such as police officers.

Transforming Uses
Permanent Pictures
Not Pop Culture
Police Work Uncovered
Gang Retort
No Profiling

Works Cited:
-Kim, Suzin. “Gangs and Law Enforcement: The Necessity of Limiting the Use of Gang Profiles.” The Boston University Public Interest Law Journal. Winter (1996): n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

-Palermo, George B. “Tattooing and Tattooed Criminals.” Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice. 4.1 (2010): n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Anika McEwan