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Officers’ tattoos share personal meaning, help them connect

July 13, 2019

YORK, Pa. (AP) — Amid the silhouetted flames, an angry spark plug, realistic deep burgundy roses, a four-leaf clover and other ink on Cpl. Scott Musselman’s arms, The Little Engine That Could and Jasmine and Rajah from “Aladdin” might seem out of place.

But if you take into account the inspiration for all his tattoos — “Me, my past, my history, things that I’m into,” it makes sense.

The Little Engine that could? It’s his most sentimental tattoo. “My daughter was born 10 weeks early,” he said. “I would read ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ to her” while she was in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Jasmine and Rajah? Jasmine is his daughter’s favorite Disney princess. Plus, he said, she’s unique, and he doesn’t want anything typical on his skin. “Nobody (else) is running around with Jasmine” tattooed on them.

Sometimes Musselman, who is a K-9 officer with West York Borough Police, has a concept in mind that he works over and over. Other times it’s more spontaneous, like when his tattoo artist, at Vivid Skin Tattoo in West Manchester Township, calls him up and tells him he has an open spot on his calendar.

But for Musselman, having meaningful and uncommon tattoos is always important.

His roses are a nod to the women in his life; the angry spark plug and flames were inspired by his life before law enforcement, when he worked as a custom automotive painter.

“I always think that tattoos should have some personal meaning,” Musselman said. “It should have some meaning to you. I don’t believe in walking into a tattoo parlor and saying, ‘Give me number 17.’”

Even though all his ink is unique, there is a commonality between Musselman and some other tattooed York County law enforcement officers. They each have tattoos related to their work.

Musselman has a tattoo on his arm inspired by his K-9 partner, Detective Prince.

Policies for police officers who have tattoos vary by department. Some have no restrictions, as long as the tattoo isn’t of something offensive or inappropriate, while others have restrictions, including that tattoos cannot be visible while the officer is in uniform.

Some officers say their tattoos bridge a gap with the people they serve. “I have found that in law enforcement, (having tattoos) helps you to relate to people,” Musselman said.

‘It humanizes the badge’

For about as long back as he can remember, Sgt. Mike Bennage wanted to be a police officer.

“Well, first I wanted to be Batman,” he clarified.

But given that job was taken, Bennage knew he wanted to work in law enforcement. The Fairview Township officer worked construction in his teens and 20s, but always wanted to help people.

“I wanted to catch bad guys,” Bennage said.

He was working a construction job that he didn’t like very much, and he saw an ad for a police officer position at Fairview Township in the newspaper. He decided to give it a shot.

Starting out the process to become an officer, he said, “it’s like you’re at the bottom of Mount Everest looking up.” But he made it through, got hired and began working.

Now in his 13th year with the department, Bennage said his recent tattoo work is a direct result of his career path.

He found his current tattoo artist, from Red Beard Ink in Harrisburg, one night while he was working. Bennage stopped a car that had a tail light out.

Bennage usually tries to ask people about themselves, like what they do. The driver handed him a business card for his tattoo shop. That business card had sat in Bennage’s drawer for about a year, when he fished it out and decided it was time to get some new ink.

He had gotten his first tattoo, related to martial arts, when he was 18.

Bennage said his ink has come in handy when he’s been interrogating someone.

“You have an experience you can both relate to,” he said. “It humanizes the badge.”

Bennage said he always asks people who their tattoo artist is, and if they have the same one, that’s something they have in common. Even if they have different artists, Bennage can see what a person’s interests are based on their tattoos. Those things build bridges, he said.

His tattoos are mostly related to American history, which he has a strong interest in, and law enforcement.

He recently had a thin blue line flag done on his right arm, symbolizing the order the police officers bring to society. In general, the thin blue line is representative of the police brotherhood. It’s a piece he really likes.

And, he said, he’ll probably start thinking up what he wants next in a few months.

Tattoos ‘transcend race, gender, politics’

When Sgt. Jason Jay is out on the street investigating an incident, he notices that possible witnesses are sometimes more likely to talk with him than others.

“It’s actually an ice breaker when you’re at a crime scene,” Jay said of his tattoos. “They transcend race, gender, politics .. People can appreciate body art.”

And oftentimes, he said, people with tattoos see his as a bridge, something that they can relate to.

Jay has been with the York City Police Department for 19 years, the first 15 as a patrolman. He got his first tattoo, the Superman symbol, when he was in college at Shippensburg University.

Now, he has several tattoos, two of them law enforcement related. A portrait of St. Michael on his forearm is one that is common with police officers who have ink. “It’s part of the policeman’s prayer,” Jay said. St. Michael “is triumphing over evil. He’s a protector, and that’s what we do. We protect and we try to help out.”

Some older people might think tattoos don’t look professional, Jay said. But many in the younger generations have tattoos or are used to seeing them. Those are the people Jay thinks he might be able to develop a rapport with, and where he can use his ink to his advantage at work.

“They see past the uniform,” Jay said. “They see maybe this guy isn’t just a badge and a blue uniform.”

‘What girl doesn’t like roses?’

Officer Kayla Miske didn’t always know she wanted to work in law enforcement.

But when that option landed in front of her, she saw all the good she could do.

She graduated from Penn State Harrisburg with a degree in criminal justice in 2013. She said she became intrigued seeing the way law enforcement was portrayed by the media, and the way that police officers’ community relations could be improved.

To this day, Miske gets frustrated when she hears parents tell their children, “Don’t be bad, that police officer will take you away,” she said. She wants children to grow up knowing that police officers are there to help. “There are definitely more good cops than bad cops.”

In her job with Fairview Township Police Department, Miske works with children.

She tries to be a positive influence on them and impress upon them the ways that police officers help their communities, not just hold bad guys accountable.

Before she was an officer, Miske says she was like many other teenagers. That’s what led her to get her first tattoo. “It was stars,” she said. “I think every 18-year-old who says ‘I’m gonna get a tattoo,’ doesn’t think about it.”

Since then, her tattoos have become more meaningful, not just something she does on a whim. She has blue and black roses on her ribs. She got those in 2016, around the time a man opened fire on Dallas police officers, killing five of them.

Miske’s roses are a memorial tribute to the five and all fallen officers. They’re a reminder that serving as a police officer means she could have to make such a sacrifice.

And they’re beautiful, she said, noting “What girl doesn’t like roses?”

She has “CLXVII,” on her back, which is 167 in Roman numerals. That number is the badge number of a friend of hers, a fellow female officer in another department whom she met while doing a fitness challenge.

Although Miske considers herself part of the law enforcement brotherhood, having a fellow female officer she can talk to about things that male officers might not experience the same way is comforting and helpful, she said.

Miske has an incredible tattoo in progress on her right arm, a nature scene that her tattoo artist, Jake Kirk who works at a shop in Duncannon, drew on her arm free-hand with a sharpie before he laid down the permanent ink.

But it’s a phrase on her left bicep that serves as a constant reminder of what she’s made of. “She needed a hero so that’s what she became.”

She said some people didn’t think she should be in law enforcement, but she knew that it was what she wanted to do.

Going through the police academy and starting her career in law enforcement showed those people and also herself that she could be her own hero and blaze her own trail.

“I was proving everybody wrong, showing I can do what I set my mind to,” she said.

Once she finishes the nature scene on her right arm, Miske’s not quite sure that she wants any more ink. “I know, everyone who has tattoos says that,” she said smiling

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Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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