Nearly every member of the law enforcement community will agree, the average civilian either lacks the familiarity or the proximity to accurately identify gang tattoos or symbols. More than this, symbolism varies from one organization to the next, and virtually nothing is universal.
Whether found in graffiti or on a person's body, the symbols used are often unique to the location and individual in question. Gang tattoos often are used to commemorate gang-related activities, significant moments or a specific crime that an individual committed. Some are small and easy to overlook, such as the all too common tear-drop tattoo. Others are much larger and more conspicuous, like full torso tattoos used to either show affiliation or a specific event. Graffiti is much more difficult to nail down, as building owners often paint over or otherwise erase the markings. These symbols must constantly change because they are long-term images that law enforcement catalogues to keep tabs on gang activity in an area. As a result, these have become like tribal art, and have evolved in their level of sophistication. They may be warnings about police activity, a claim on a location or business or a warning to fellow gang members that a house is under someone's protection.