Among the many problems plaguing San Francisco in recent years, business leaders say one has become so commonplace that residents barely notice it: shoplifting.
Walgreens says petty theft in the city has gotten so out of control that it’s had to close 17 of its stores. CVS has told its employees not to intervene because the thieves so often attack them, calling San Francisco “one of the epicenters of organized retail crime.”
“We’ve had incidents where our security officers are assaulted on a pretty regular basis in San Francisco,” Brendan Dugan, head of CVS’ retail crime division, said at a 13 May hearing with city officials, according to a New York Times report.
Police agree that the stealing has become endemic.
“The one trend we are seeing is more violence and escalating – and much more bold,” Commander Raj Vaswani of the San Francisco Police Department said at the hearing. “We see a lot of repeat offenders.”
Even more shocking is the fact that many shoplifters then sell their stolen goods on the street – often not far from the store where they stole them.
For example, the Walgreens at 30th St and Mission St reported 16 shoplifting incidents from November 2020 to February 2021. Just six blocks away, at 24th St and Mission, a city official said he saw Walgreens’ products being sold at an outdoor market.
“Half of Walgreens was on the sidewalk. I’m not kidding,” Ahsha Safaí, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, told The New York Times. “I was blown away. I’ve never seen anything like it in this city.”
Meanwhile, local residents are angry – at the stores. When a Walgreens that had seen 18 stealing incidents in four months announced it was closing, a group of citizens started a petition demanding that it remain open.
“Walgreens Corp has an annual revenue of around $139.5 billion,” the petitioners wrote. “We think they can afford to keep needed stores like this open.”
“In the middle of a pandemic and crisis, we cannot allow profit driven greedy Corporations to further traumatize and abandon their responsibility to the community,” one signer of the petition wrote. “Shame on Walgreens.”
San Francisco has faced a painful set of concurring crises in recent years, including skyrocketing homelessness and an epidemic of drug overdoses. And in 2020, added to all that was the Covid-19 pandemic.
City officials say all these problems have fueled the rise in shoplifting, but other factors have contributed as well. For one thing, in 2014 California passed a ballot measure called Proposition 47, which deems any nonviolent theft of items worth less than $950 a misdemeanor, not a felony.