The symbol of gang activity can be seen in Las Vegas affluent communities as well as low-income areas. Those symbols can be also be found tattooed onto a child's body. In an Eyewitness News exclusive, the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services unveiled plans for a new parent gang handbook.
An infinite number of pictures and symbols show up on bodies all over the valley. Dick Vermin, owner of Pussykat Tattoo Parlor says, "I tattoo a lot of doctors, lawyers, cops. You name it. It's a huge industry now."
Some tattoos are not just an expression -- some have dangerous implications and some can even lead to violence. Gangs in Las Vegas use tattoos as a symbol of their commitment.
Johnny Boy joined the 28th Street gang in elementary school. The former gang member said, "Tens family, which stands for 28 non-stop family." Johnny Boy has gang tattoos on his stomach, fingers, and elbow. They serve as a reminder of a life he works to leave behind.
But his tattoos will stay with him forever. "When my mom first saw me with a gang tat on me she cried." During a younger time, Johnny Boy felt empowered by the markings. He lived like a gangster that included a lengthy prison sentence starting at age 16.
"I shot at a rival gang member and other innocent people were hit in the process of it," he said. Now he works with the county's Gang Task Force to convince children not to follow in his footsteps.
Gang specialist Jerry Simon says kids joining gangs remains a tremendous problem. "There is no way to eliminate gangs in Las Vegas. Our job is to reduce the gangs and reduce the membership and activity."
The newest weapon to fight gangs rests with the police gang reference manual. Pages and pages of gang signs, gang tattoos will be released in the first ever parents handbook on gangs.
Simon explains, "These are actual gangs that are operating right now in Las Vegas." Simon said the handbook will tell parents, "Where to go, who to talk to. And this is how we as a community, we as an entire village, can address this problem through the parent."
The book identifies tattoos linking the symbols with a specific Las Vegas gang. "Parents will be armed with information so they will be able to ask for help," Simon adds.
The more parents know the signs, the quicker a child headed down the wrong path can be redirected to the right one -- before a tattoo appears and before flashing gang signs.
Jerry Simon said, "For the young elementary kids before tats and symbols get on their bodies many times they will put them on their notebooks, on their backpacks."
Simon wants parents to look for these symbols because gang members will recruit children as young as 7 years old. "You can have a child come home with a tattoo, say 13 or 702, on his body. It's not too late."
Johnny Boy says parents should go deeper than just inspecting drawings or tattoos. He says parents need to be involved and encourage kids to pursue interests other than his former lifestyle. "Not so many of my friends are fortunate like me to be here. A lot of them are doing time right now. A lot of them."
If someone recognized the symbols that led them down the wrong path their lifes may have turned out differently.
Johnny Boy started rapping about his life experiences. He says his music is a non-violent outlet that keeps him out of trouble.
The police handbook on gangs for parents will be released in August.
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