On The Beat

By Anthony Mikatarian

Tattooing has arguably been around since many centuries BC. The documented earliest signs of tattooing come from the Egyptian pyramid era. However, researchers found it has been around much earlier. Tattooing has and still plays a significant role in many different cultures around the world with its various purposes and meanings. Tattooing plays significant roles in such areas as traditions, rituals, status, religion, symbols, memorials, skill and membership. It also carries a negative stigma in such areas as marking prisoners, criminals and slaves.

Let’s examine tattooing in American culture, specifically in the law enforcement community.

In the U.S., tattooing have existed since the Native Americans but appeared to have taken off with sailors and military personnel after the American Revolution. Tattooing was used for such things as identifying purposes, honor, and to mark foreign excursions/battles. For a considerable period of time, tattoos were excluded from the mainstream, and other than the military, groups such as bikers, gang members and criminals, mostly utilized them.

In the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and even today, American society’s view of tattooing began to change. This was mainly because of our counterculture changes, such as the hippie, punk rock, rock, metal rock and hip hop/rap movements. These rebellious movements had increased the popularity and demand of tattoos, thus transitioning tattooing into an acceptable and common art form in mainstream America. Tattooing has now exploded into popularity with people from all walks of life and for all different reasons. A recent poll indicates that 30 to 40 percent of adult Americans have at least one tattoo and about 70 percent of them have more than one tattoo. The evidence indicates these percentages will grow in the recent future.

The law enforcement environment has historically been known to be conservative, but with our ever-growing societal norms, many law enforcement agencies are following suit with these changes. This includes tasteful tattoo artwork being acceptably shown on their officers. There are some administrators who are apprehensive of change, especially when it comes to the perception of his/her department. This is definitely understandable, especially if their focus is to make sure their officers are tactically safe, motivated, presentable, and most of all, approachable.

A tastefully tattooed officer can fill all these mentioned categories. It will show the community that you are down to earth, approachable, and humanized, while indicating that you possess authoritative power when needed. A tattooed officer can utilize his tattoos as a conversational piece to break the ice with civilians, especially ones that display or possess tattoos of their own. As for motivation, many officers utilize tattoos as story books for such things as pride for their profession, memorializing experiences, religion or for honoring family. This brings pride and comfort, as well as motivation for survival, for those of us who have to put a bulletproof vest on every day.

Visible tattoo artwork or any other body enhancements must be tasteful and appropriately placed, as well as acceptable to your department’s mission. The tattoo culture in law enforcement is undoubtedly becoming a more accepted practice in expressing ourselves in a positive way in this extraordinary profession we are all called to do. God Bless and stay safe.

Anthony Mikatarian has been a police officer for over 17 years. He is currently assigned to patrol in a northern NJ municipality. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I., and another degree in mortuary science from the American Academy McAllister Institute in New York City.