SAN FRANCISCO – A barrage of masked and hooded shoplifters sprinted downtown getaway cars with armfuls of designer handbags from a Neiman Marcus downtown last week – a scene captured on video that raised fears that thieves’ rings were raiding retail stores.
The incident, which is still under investigation, was just the latest to give a sense of the lawlessness that is rampant in San Francisco stores, where people were caught on record openly wiping products with seemingly no effect.
But city guides are pushing that image back after a mid-year public safety report was released Monday. Police data shows total thefts decreased 9 percent in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2020 when the city was on lockdown and many businesses closed at the start of the pandemic.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott and the Mayor of London Breed admitted that the total number of violent and property crimes has decreased, although some crimes have increased, including serious assaults, murders and incidents involving guns.
“The statistics contradict the story,” Scott said at a press conference, admitting that some crimes may go unreported.
“Unfortunately, we have received a lot of negative attention when it comes to crime,” added Breed. “What doesn’t attract attention is that if you come to San Francisco and commit a crime, you will be arrested by this department.”
Retail thefts have attracted the most attention on social media due to the series of videos. But San Francisco isn’t the only city grappling with the problem: in Seattle, police last month said they had more than 50 arrests related to coordinated thefts at nine major retailers and grocery stores, as well as in Albuquerque, New Mexico The top of the state, prosecutors, police and wholesalers announced this month a partnership to fight “organized retail crime”.
In recent years, some retail stores have placed not only high-end items but also everyday items like toothpaste and shampoo behind security locks. But chains say even more drastic measures are needed.
Target said earlier this month that six San Francisco locations had closed four hours early after a “significant and alarming increase in theft and security incidents in these stores,” NBC Bay Area reported.
Both CVS and Walgreens say shoplifting in San Francisco outperforms thefts in their stores across the country. In October, California’s attorney general announced the disbanding of a large theft ring in the Bay Area that allegedly stole $ 8 million worth of goods from Target, CVS and Walgreens and then sold them in other countries and washed the proceeds back to the United States became states.
In an interview with NBC News last week, Scott suggested that California Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014 lowering the penalties for certain non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting and check forgery, is being exploited by those trying to commit theft. The initiative set a $ 950 shoplifting threshold, which is considered a misdemeanor that does not induce law enforcement to arrest, rather than a crime that could result in harsh penalties such as jail time.
“Some people say, ‘Hey, you know, I don’t want to go over $ 950 so let me steal $ 949 worth of property,'” said Scott.
“If it is a crime, our officials can take action,” he added. “But if it’s an offense, that arrest has to be the arrest of a private individual. And that makes a difference because you have to be ready to do it.”
Store workers are often uncomfortable meddling, and some retailers have an increased security presence but with limited results.
“Think of these people in these stores who are witnessing these crimes. They are also affected,” said Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, a trade group.
She said retailers are doing their best but are concerned that some city guides have been gentler on arrests.
City prosecutor Chesa Boudin, who took office in January 2020 on a progressive platform pledging to fight incarceration rates and support diversion programs, was the focus of a recall following complaints about the city’s rising crime rate.
Rachel Marshall, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman, said in an email Monday that it was serious about destroying “shameless” networks of organized thieves and working with the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force to stop the rings.
Bill, through state law and endorsed by the California Retailers Association, would renew and fund the Organized Retail Crime Task Force through the end of 2025 and focus on “ringleaders and conspirators of these criminal networks, not the low-level petty thief ” focus. One company that was dissolved was valued at $ 50 million.
“The balance here is to provide a level of public safety to ensure consumers don’t get caught in the middle of an ongoing theft by providing law enforcement with adequate resources to resolve organized retail crime before planning a crime series Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat representing parts of Los Angeles, said.
Criminal justice experts say if California officials agree that moving away from mass incarceration and toward decriminalizing low-level crime is imperative, then it is important to track down the bosses and co-conspirators rather than focus on the shoplifters themselves who may paid youth and homeless, officials said.
Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law, and society at the University of California, Irvine who studied the effects of Proposition 47, noted that the initiative had no impact on most crimes in the course of the year after it was passed and while it was still The whole country had a modest increase in thefts and car thefts, it was too small to draw any significant conclusions.
A similar study in the Journal of Criminal Justice published this month found that Proposition 47 and another related reform bill have successfully helped reduce the number of state prisons and that the increase in crime that the initiatives may be involved in the Los Angeles area were “generally small”.
“Evidence seems to be mounting that Prop 47 is not the culprit, or at least not the main culprit,” said Kubrin, adding that criminal justice reforms have become “a scapegoat” to accuse high crime perceptions.
California, she added, has seen its property and violent crime drop to historic lows in some cases in recent years when the state reformed. However, more research is needed, Kubrin said, to see the impact something like Proposition 47 has on San Francisco and other local communities.
“Nobody cares about big, comprehensive statistics,” she said. “They care what happens in their backyard.”
On Monday, Scott said officials in San Francisco were being deployed to even more crime-ridden neighborhoods. However, he also admitted that it was difficult to recruit new police officers for the city department, which is still short of hundreds of officers in a climate where policing continues to be scrutinized.
“Robbery is one of the categories that police officers play a role in on the street,” he told reporters.
Ambrosio Rodriguez, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant district attorney in Los Angeles, said cities like San Francisco, battling over policing amid appeals amid rising crime rates, are facing the need to see the public at large in relation to smaller, “victimless” individuals is willing to tolerate “Crime over the general quality of life is an issue.
“I think no one is going to have a lot of empathy for Neiman Marcus, but that doesn’t matter,” said Rodriguez. “There are shops there too. So when people stop going to Neiman Marcus and closing the stores in the area, it will have a greater impact on other businesses and the perception of whether a place is safe to visit. “
“The San Franciscans have to choose what to endure,” he added.
Erik Ortiz reported from New York and Jacob Ward from San Francisco.