If you’re reading this and you happen to be a tattooist, answer me this question: would you work for the cops as an undercover tattooist? A strange question indeed, but one that actually has some basis in reality.
A recent undercover sting operation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was staged at a now empty shop on Venice Boulevard in Venice, California. Villainz Ink was opened by the police and run in an attempt to arrest gang members. The shop ended up luring in numerous gangsters and resulted in 19 arrests, all of which belonged to the Venice 13 gang.
‘Many who were suckered in by the storefront have been charged with selling cocaine, as well as illegal firearms sales and possession. One man, Michael Daniali, was charged with two counts of selling meth and one count of intent to sell the substance.’
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this operation was the fact that criminals who came into the shop actually were tattooed – who exactly they were tattooed by is something that federal officials are not willing to discuss with the public. All they will say is that the tattooists were nonagents.
‘Were they unemployed inkers, so eager for work that they were willing to work for the feds? Or maybe they were conned as well? The spokesman for the ATF bureau’s Southern California division refuses to discuss the case, so as not to risk blowing the cover for future operations.’
Future operations? So I guess this sort of thing will now become the norm with police on the hunt for gang members, murderers, drug dealers and other undesireable elements of society? How kind of them to use a tattoo studio as a setting.
I can understand needing to set up sting operations in order to catch these criminals, but my feelings regarding using tattoo studios as bait is two sided. On one side, I sympathise with those in the tattoo community who feel that just when this industry is starting to rise above crass stereotypes of tattoos and tattoo studios as havens for criminals and trashers, that the cops come along and reinforce that stereotype by building an entire sting operation around it.
Then on the other side, I wonder if in a way this sort of thing is helping tattoo a little. By this I mean that if these fake tattoo studio operations continue, sooner rather than later the criminal element that they seem to attract will cease using them as a base for operations. In other words, criminals could very well become more than a little wary of even the rattier, untrustworthy tattoo studios and decide to conduct their business elsewhere. Or, the studios that open and typically specialise in being friendly with the criminal element could find themselves no longer able to stay in business as a result of the suspicion and paranoia resulting from these types of operations.
Could be, I guess. Or maybe I’m just overly optimistic and this really is a bad thing. Either way, it will no doubt continue, so I guess all the tattoo community can really do at this point is to keep doing what it always has – distance itself from the undesireables by continuing to work hard and maintain a solid standard of professional, quality art.