Tattoos have a legacy of being a symbol for belonging to a group. Used as a way to identify a member of a gang, tribe, club, or gang. A tool to identify members of your own and also to identify a rival gang member.
Gang tattoos are commonly inked by fellow gang members or an artist that may be affiliated with the group. Besides the symbol representing the gang affiliation, a popular choice is getting their own names in tall, large, letters on their chest and stomach area. Biker groups have a preference for large back pieces proclaiming their gang name. Hells Angels is probably one of the more well known groups for this style and many tattoo books feature the artwork that some of the members have gotten.
One of the biggest taboos amongst gangs is someone outside of the gang getting a gang related tattoos. This is a dangerous choice. There have been incidents of gangs literally burning or cutting the tattoo off the person who made this bad choice. This has been illustrated in a episode of the current TV series, Sons of Anarchy.
Police have to keep up with the gang symbols to keep on top of the underground world of gangs and gang violence. Knowing the gang affiliation ink can enable them to identify members and gangs and possibly help them to curb the crime related to gang violence.
Gang members wishing to leave the violence behind and turn over a new leaf, may find this more difficult if they have tattoos on part of their body that they are unable to cover up. Due to this factor, various agencies have set up programs to pay for tatto removal option to help these people start over and have a chance at a non-violent life.