‘Chaos and Anarchy’: Brazen Shoplifters Swarm San Francisco’s Retail Businesses

Shoplifters in San Francisco are unafraid of uniformed security guards, surveillance cameras, or consumers photographing them on their cellphones. Corner stores and pharmacies have taken the most loss and damage. In one recent incident at Walgreens, a shoplifter arrived on a bike, loaded a garbage bag with stuff, and rode out the front door. The incident was captured on video, but no arrest was made.

Walgreens has closed 17 shops in the last five years due to stealing. CVS has closed at least two stores in San Francisco, citing the city as “the heart of organized retail crime.”

A consistent increase in stealing at major retailers such as Walgreens and CVS sparked a recent meeting before the Board of Supervisors, with some local authorities shocked to see how bad things have gotten. According to one executive, thieves would visit numerous locations in a day, stealing less than $950 per theft but stealing more than $30,000 in total.

“Like other retailers,” said a statement from Safeway, “we’ve seen a dramatic increase in shoplifting incidents and losses from shoplifting since California sentencing laws changed in 2014 to make all theft below $950 a misdemeanor when it was previously a wobbler, either a felony or a misdemeanor based on prosecutorial discretion. Enterprising thieves have figured out there are few consequences to shoplifting if they keep the value of their crimes below $950.”

“We’re in a state of chaos and anarchy out here in San Francisco,” says former San Francisco Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese. “If you ever lived here or spent any time here, you see it every day, and you just come to expect it and hope that when it happens, you’re not in the line of fire.”

Jalal Haydari, proprietor of Limoncello Italian Market and Deli in Pacific Heights, stated that his store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A man may be seen on his security camera film hovering around the deli counter. He then takes as many food and drinks as he can carry and goes out the door without paying.

“My store has been broken into more than 14 times,” Haydari says. “And I have all the police reports, but I have not been notified if anybody got arrested.”