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Getting down to business: Combating gangs
Volunteer Manteca Police Chaplain Arabella Whitlock holds up one of the MPD gang prevention posters during the gang awareness meeting. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca business owners received an education Thursday on gang awareness and prevention.

During the hour-long session at the new Main Street Café, the Manteca Police Department encouraged merchants to “set the tolerance” with suspected gang members.

“You can do it with the right to refuse service,” Public Affairs Officer Rex Osborn said. “You can tactfully tell them that you don’t need their business.”

He added that gang activity can create problem areas in any community, leading to a cycle of decay.

About two months ago, police received a call from one local business owner about coming out and conducting an individual training session on gang awareness and prevention.

“But we didn’t have the staffing (to do it),” Osborn said.

Thanks to the Manteca Chamber of Commerce via the business learning program, local police were finally able to meet with merchants, providing information on the subject matter.

“Gangs can affect businesses by loitering, graffiti – or tagging – and intimidation,” said Osborn, who was helped out in the session by Gang Prevention Officer Jason Hensley.

Hensley often works with the Manteca Unified School District, talking to third- and fourth- grade students on up about the gang culture.

“We’ve been able to reach out to some of the kids,” he said. “I think we’ve managed to impact a few.”

Gangs are multi-generation and have been part of Manteca for over 50 years, according to police.

Some of today’s Latino gangs – the Nortenos, for example – were formed at nearby Deuel Vocational Institution in the late 1950s.

“Our two primary gangs are the Nortenos and Surenos,” Osborn added.

Nortenos is Spanish for ‘Norte’ or ‘Northerners,’ and are traditionally in northern California. Members identify with the color red and the number, 14.

Surenos or ‘Southerners’ identify with blue and the number, 13.

“These gangs are no longer just Hispanics. Members are made up of black, white and other nationalities,” Osborn said.

They’re able to identify fellow gang members by clothing, tattoos, whistles, and hand signals, to name a few.

“Yet some (merchants) don’t see red or blue. They only see green,” Osborn said.

His concern is the fear of gangs putting the general public in harm’s way.

“Don’t be afraid to call police,” said Osborn.

Any suspicious activity can be reported by contacting the police department’s non-emergency number 209-456-8101.

Police are also hoping to conduct another session on gang awareness and prevention with community members and the local businesses.

In addition, they’ve set up the anonymous tip line, 209-823-4636, along with the website