The City of San Francisco and the SF Police Department announced a new effort Wednesday to address an uptick in brazen retail theft in the city.
Months after SF made national news from one viral video in particular of a thief ripping off a Walgreens in June while a security guard stood idly by, Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott gave a press conference Wednesday to announce the new Organized Retail Theft Investigation and Deterrence Strategy. As the Chronicle reports, the initiative will expand the existing Organized Retail Crime Unit from two to five investigators, and it will also create two new department positions dedicated to retail theft.
One of those new positions, a lieutenant, will be in charge of overseeing a crew of so-called “10B” officers — often retired police officers who work privately funded beats, in this case going to do foot patrols at 34 retail locations around the city.
The other new position, a sergeant, will work with retailers on prevention strategies, and focus on the patrol side with the rank and file.
The repeat retail burglar from the Walgreens incident was arrested shortly thereafter, but that was just one high-profile example of something that's been an ongoing problem for the city, which is widespread property crime in general. As the Chronicle notes, shoplifting rates were still below pre-pandemic levels this past spring, but San Francisco has ranked highest for per-capita property crime of any major city for several years now — led by an epidemic of car break-ins.
At a "CompStat" briefing in July, Mayor Breed said that the same 10 groups of thieves were responsible for 1,000 burglaries and car break-ins each month in San Francisco. And she addressed the outsized perception of crime in the city, which is contradicted by data that has shown crime, especially violent crime, going down here.
"We know that numbers don’t matter when you’re the victim of a crime; any crime, in any capacity," Breed said at the time. "But at the end of the day, we have to use this data to make a decision about our policies and our investment."
Breed described the new retail theft initiative as "all-hands-on-deck approach," and it will involve partnerships with local merchants as well as the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force.
As SFPD Deputy Chief David Lazar tells the Chronicle, "We can’t do this work alone — we have to partner with the community and in this case, the merchants and the retailers. We have to have an accurate picture of what’s happening so that we can make decisions about deployment, we can think about prevention and we can think about what we need to do to investigate crime."
Problems with brazen retail theft exist well outside the borders of San Francisco, though. In July, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an extension of an existing state law that allows for harsher prosecution of retail crimes when suspects act in concert with others.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images