A crew that wears purple as its main color and calls itself UTI, short for “under the influence,” has gained a small presence in the city, according to Tracy police Detective Matt Sierra.
It isn’t the only one.
Sierra, a member of the department’s gang unit, said UTI is not firmly associated with either of the city’s most prominent gangs, the Norteños and the Sureños, but is one of several new “hybrid gangs” that have cropped up in the city in the past year and a half.
According to Sierra, what the police call a hybrid gang is mostly “a group of kids who are friends, and they get together and they call themselves a certain name.”
Membership in such groups is fairly fluid, Sierra said, with young people sometimes switching allegiances among various groups. But, he said, they’re as dangerous as more established outfits.
“They’re just as violent, they’re just as involved in criminal activity,” he said.
In the past two weeks, members of UTI — who named themselves because they like to get high on marijuana, Sierra explained — have been chased away from Stein High School on Ninth Street, reported trying to break into vehicles on Mount Diablo Avenue, and detained for drug violations.
The typical age of the new gang’s members is between 13 and 23, and they’re mostly involved in drug sales, vehicle burglaries and other various thefts.
Sierra added that the purple-clad UTI and other hybrid gangs have popped up in response to police efforts to stamp out gang activity. Gang members who were hounded under the Norteño or Sureño banner might have thought they could sneak under law enforcement’s radar, and Sierra said the presence of new groups has “probably increased the number of gang members that we have in our city.”
But he insists police are aware of what’s going on in town.
Police continue to gather intelligence from gang members who are arrested or members looking to get out of the life, Sierra explained, adding that police work with sheriff’s, immigration and customs officials in the fight against local gangs.
Joint parole and probation sweeps are also key tools in the police department’s gang-fighting utility belt. One, from 1 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25, led to the arrest of three documented gang members, according to Sgt. Tony Sheneman. A 9mm handgun with fingerprints was also recovered, he said.
But Sierra said the efforts of the people of Tracy are just as important in keeping peace on the streets.
“If they see something suspicious or they see a group of kids that are maybe wearing the same type of color clothing, give us a call, and we’ll at least go out there and contact them,” he said.
• Photo editor Glenn Moore and associate editor Jon Mendelson contributed to this report.