Posted on May 26, 2021

San Francisco’s Shoplifting Surge

Thomas Fuller, New York Times, May 21, 2021


Soon after moving to San Francisco in 2016, I walked into a Walgreens in North Beach to buy an electric toothbrush.

As I was paying for it, a man walked into the store, grabbed a handful of beef jerky and walked out. I looked over at an employee, who shrugged. Then I went to Safeway next door for some groceries and I saw a man stuffing three bottles of wine into a backpack and walking casually toward the exit. On his way out he bagged some snacks. I asked the Safeway clerk about the thefts.

“I’m new to San Francisco,” I said. “Is it optional to pay for things here?”

Five years later, the shoplifting epidemic in San Francisco has only worsened.

At a board of supervisors hearing last week, representatives from Walgreens said that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable.

Brendan Dugan, the director of the retail crime division at CVS Health, called San Francisco “one of the epicenters of organized retail crime” and said employees were instructed not to pursue suspected thieves because encounters had become too dangerous.

“We’ve had incidents where our security officers are assaulted on a pretty regular basis in San Francisco,” Dugan said.

The retail executives and police officers emphasized the role of organized crime in the thefts. And they told the supervisors that Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that reclassified nonviolent thefts as misdemeanors if the stolen goods are worth less than $950, had emboldened thieves.