The Rise Of Retail Theft

Natalie Bachman

As COVID protocols are gradually lifted, high-end retail stores are becoming targets of shoplifting, both by mass mobs and individuals. However, this chaos did not spur out of the blue: proposition 47, ratified in 2014, now classifies shoplifting of items valued under $950 as a misdemeanor, perpetuating crime and an “anything goes” mindset. 

San Francisco is now among the top 10 cities in the nation for organized retail crimes, alongside Los Angeles and Sacramento. Walgreens recently announced that their break-in rate in San Francisco is nearly 5 times the national average. This prompted them to close over 17 locations in the city. Other major chains, such as Safeway and Target, have responded by reducing their hours and hiring extra security guards. Still, over $8 million worth of retail merchandise has been stolen from Bay Area retailers. 

Prior to 2014, stealing items valued under $950 was classified as a felony. Felonies are more serious crimes, often carrying jail sentences that exceed one year. Misdemeanors are less severe, and often don’t result in police intervention. This essentially allows shoplifting incidents to be “brushed off” by law enforcement, perpetuating further crime.

Shoplifting is not a new issue either. Prior to the pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle reported 933 cases of shoplifting over a 4-month period. That number dropped to 710 between January and April of 2021. It is worth noting that this dip occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that restrictions have been lifted, shoplifting is on the rise. The San Francisco Police Department then reported a spike of more than 400 cases in September 2021. However, the rates quickly dipped below the pre-pandemic averages in October.

Nearly half of the shoplifting incidents reported in September came from one Target location, located near Union Square. The store manager attributed this spike with their newly installed security system, allowing customers to report the incidents. However, this still doesn’t explain the sudden decline, and the San Francisco Police Department has not yet outlined a clear reason.

Mass media has also been playing a role in encouraging these crimes. San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott observed that when people “see these things go viral, the perception of lawlessness, the perception that anything goes — that has to be overcome, too.” 

Even though the current retail theft rates aren’t spiking, the issue is gaining more traction. From daily news reports to viral Youtube videos, our community is beginning to draw attention to this “anything goes” mindset, and it’s detrimental impact on the retail industry. From financial losses to facility damage, it goes without saying that the retail industry is in for a tough ride.

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