By Mia Machado
SAN FRANCISCO — As the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office addresses rampant shoplifting at the city’s Walgreens, Deputy District Attorney Matthew Donahue noted the upward trend as a reflection of “a lot of the issues we’re facing as a city: homelessness, poverty, drug addiction.”
As shoplifting becomes more commonplace during the pandemic, Donahue and his team said it is “focused only on stopping serious, repeat offenders, especially violent ones.”
The Walgreens chain, with more than 60 stores across the city, has endured a concerning spike in shoplifting in recent years, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from the San Francisco Police Department which shows that 18 Walgreens stores throughout the city saw 94 incidents of theft between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020.
Some locations—as outlined in the Ingleside Police Station newsletter—have experienced theft at exceptionally higher rates. The Walgreens at 30th and Mission, for example, reported 16 incidents of shoplifting between early November, 2020, and early February, 2021.
Another Walgreens in the district, at 965 Geneva Ave., reported almost double the amount of incidents during the same time period. However, in many cases, as Donahue explained, police will not write an incident report because the suspect has already left the scene.
As rampant shoplifting has forced other San Francisco Walgreens stores to close, many residents risk losing the local drug stores that they rely on for easy access to vaccinations and other medication needs.
Over the past few months, Donahue and his team have been working alongside ALTO Alliance, to determine how to help retailers such as Walgreens deter shoplifting.
ALTO Alliance, a consulting firm, reports that it “operationalizes retailer incident data, enabling [its] team of attorneys and support specialists to provide actionable insights that empower collaboration between retailers, law enforcement, and prosecutors.”
The team is working through a list of more than 100 shoplifting incidents reported in San Francisco, some with identified suspects and many without, in an effort to support some of the hardest-hit stores in the city, and to begin to prosecute many of the city’s repeat shoplifters.
Though identifying and locating shoplifters is difficult—as many are long gone by the time officers arrive, some shoplifters will return to the same Walgreens so often that employees are able to learn their names, Donahue explained. This additional information, combined with security footage, helps identify potential suspects, he said.
Since working with ALTO Alliance, the DA’s office has issued four warrants for serial shoplifters and arrested two of them, including one who frequented the 30th and Mission Walgreens—one of the hardest-hit locations in the city. The DA’s office is now working on a fifth warrant, Donahue said.
Donahue explained that some shoplifters are only taking what they need for themselves, describing a man who went into a Walgreens store each week only to take a package of toilet paper. Others, it seems, are stealing larger amounts in an attempt to resell them to earn money for their families, he said.
In response to this reality, Donahue and his team are focused only on stopping serious, repeat offenders—especially violent ones, including an incident in which a shoplifter threatened a manager with a Taser for calling the police.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as more Americans are encouraged to seek out flu and now Covid-19 vaccinations from their local drug stores, ensuring that Walgreens locations across San Francisco remain open is crucial.
Recognizing this, Donahue ensured that “we want people to feel protected, and we want these places to stay in the neighborhood.” He and his team also “want to respond [to shoplifting] in a way that is most responsive and protective to public safety.”
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California. She is a team member on the Chesa Boudin Recall – Changing the Narrative Project.
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