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Tattoos in Investigations: An Experimental Study in Profiling Cases Based on Investigators' Assessments and Interpretations of Tattoo Iconography

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Identification Volume: 52 Issue: 5 Dated: September/October 2002 Pages: 607-620
James A. Bailey
Date Published
September 2002
14 pages
The purpose of this study was to determine the ability of investigators to assess tattoo iconography to assist in the accurate development of an investigative profile of a suspect when limited background information on the suspect is available.
Forty officers (35 males and 5 females) from a southeastern North Carolina police agency were selected to participate as evaluators in the study. The sample had an average tenure of 6 years as a sworn police officer and 2 years as an investigator. Each officer was given 12 evaluation forms; each included a 4" x 6" color photograph of a tattoo, the location of the tattoo on the subject's body, and information about the tattooed subject (gender, approximate age, height, weight, hair color, and eye color). Each officer was asked to review each tattoo and the descriptive information and to provide answers in six categories of subject characteristics: hobbies and interests, geographical background, educational level, military background, criminal background, and period of residence. Each category had answers from which the profilers could select. The results indicate that although some categories (geographical, military, and criminal backgrounds) provided some accurate assessments, the other judgments of the profilers were unreliable. Additionally, the accuracy of determining background information based on any particular tattoo design was inconsistent. Although the reliability of determining a subject's background through the assessment of a tattoo is not clearly demonstrated in this research, this type of profiling may provide possible leads in investigations. Further research may provide a foundation of information that can improve the accuracy and usefulness of subject profiling based on tattoo iconography. 12 figures, 2 tables, and 8 references