The man with the Gothic tattoo

Like most others, I have an assortment of photos dressing up my cubicle space. Pictures of my family and friends, a nifty to-scale cutout of a Ruger revolver, a giant coloring book page by a pint-sized artist borrowing heavily from Pollock.

In addition to pictures of their spouses and friends, Associate Editors Jonathan Kozlowski and Sara Schreiber also host a variety of cubicle flare. Jonathan’s cube walls could serve as a billboard for the top law enforcement car manufacturers—he’s got the Chevy Caprice, Ford Interceptors and Dodge Charger represented, among others. Sara’s walls are more subtly festooned with pretty prints of nature art, writing awards, a couple Bob Dylan prints crafted out of last year’s (wonderfully out-of-the-ordinary) holiday cards. However, during a recent visit to the Las Vegas Metropolitan PD, an especially interesting piece of nontraditional office decor caught my attention.

Former patrol officer and current press information officer with LVMPD for 20 years, Officer Jacinto Rivera has a few of the items you might expect to find decorating his space: pictures of his bright-smiling kids, a handwritten note from his son thanking him for a visit with the K-9 team, an approximately 1.5 by 2.5-foot Chicago Bears poster (which I, as a born-and-raised Wisconsinite, unabashedly object to up front). But inside the cubicle entryway to the immediate right is a standard letter-size black-and-white copy of a man’s booking photo. The photo, taken to document identifying tattoos on the subject, is cropped to just the man’s back; from the top of his head to just below his waistline. The tattoo features an illustration in the center (from mid-shoulder blade down to the middle of the small of the back) of a bald man wearing a crazed expression with what appears to be a female officer in a chokehold. The sleeve of the officer shows a crude rendering of the LVMPD patch. In ornate Gothic lettering above the disturbing sketch is the expletive that begins in F, and below the illustration, the word “POLICE.” The message is bloodthirsty; a vision of violence dug into the skin of a cop hater.

I had to ask Rivera why the picture is positioned to be the last thing he sees every time he exits his office workspace. He told me that it serves as a reminder of the kind of guy who robs families of their badged sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, children, siblings, friends. This is the guy you don’t want to go to battle with and the very guy that officers all over the nation must face every day. The type of individual who, over the last nearly 80 years according to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund records, 12 LVMPD officers were unfortunate enough to encounter on duty resulting in the loss of their lives by gunfire or other violence.

In Carole Moore’s On Your Watch column this month (Page 54) she advises eight habits to adopt to keep yourself alive. Moore writes: “Never let your guard down and never assume the call or contact is benign.” Rivera draws on the same mindset with the image of the tattooed subject, which he says serves as the incessant reminder not to grow complacent.It may seem dark, but I think it’s wise that while Rivera surrounds his workspace with his clan of kiddos, once he steps out of that box he stays mindful of the back tattoo—the hidden danger that could be lying in wait—and the unknowable risk in police work that someone you see today may intend to make it hard for you to return home.

Fight the good fight, but stay vigilant, and stay safe.