Oscar Rivera was a marked man from the start.
After the recent robbery of an Oxnard home, a witness remembered that the robber had a tattoo of a teardrop underneath one eye and tattooed writing on the left side of his neck.
Oxnard police ran the information through their computer and eventually identified Rivera as a suspect. He later pleaded guilty to felony charges and is now in Ventura County Jail.
"If we didn't have that information about the tattoos this would have been just another unsolved case," said Detective Daniel Christian of the Oxnard Police Department. "The rest of the description was too generic to be of help."
For the past 10 years, the department has kept a computer file and photo collection of all the tattoos they see on people booked at the station and on suspicious characters they stop on the streets.
The Port Hueneme Police Department is the only other police department in the county with a comparable program, but it is newer and much less extensive.
More than 5,000 people have their tattoos on file in the Oxnard police computer.
In addition to the computer file, the station has eight large photo books stuffed with pictures of offenders and their colorful body designs.
Oxnard police said they do not have records of how many cases have been solved through the use of their tattoo information. But they said it has been a significant aid in identifying criminals.
Some of the most popular tattoos include peacocks, with 503 renditions on file; roses, which are represented 238 times; and teardrops, of which there are 117 decorating faces around town.
"Originally, one teardrop tattoo was put on for each person the wearer killed," Christian said. "But since that time, it's lost its significance. I mean, if there was a murder for every teardrop tattoo we see, the hallways here would be filled with dead bodies."
Jane LeMond of the Oxnard police crime analysis department estimated that more than 50% of area convicts have tattoos. And she said about 95% of those on file are men.
Among the women, roses and names of boyfriends are the favorites. "Women are a bit more dainty with their tattoos than men," LeMond said.
With the younger set, gang affiliations and nicknames are popular.
"There was this 16-year-old who had his name tattooed across the right side of his chest," said Linda Gray, a department clerk who works with juvenile offenders. "One time when he was arrested he lied to the officer about his name.
"Well, the policeman spotted it on his chest and gave him an additional charge of giving false information to an officer."