Are Shoplifting Rates in San Francisco Rising? Data Says Nope

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A Walgreens store in San Francisco on Oct. 12, 2020. Photo by Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images.

By Paige Laver

SAN FRANCISCO – In mid-June, reporter Lynn Mendelez posted a video at Walgreens in San Francisco that would garner more than six million views on Twitter – the photo showed a man putting items inside a trash bag and leaving the store without purchasing any of the items.

From there, the New York Times released an article titled “San Francisco’s Shoplifting Surge,” in which evidence of a shoplifting surge occurring in San Francisco was debated.

However, it appears data from the San Francisco Police Department shows that the analysis and statistics may be overemphasized and not up to date.

The data shows police-reported shoplifting incidents that are from pre-pandemic dates. Also looking even further back then pre-pandemic, the data shows that shoplifting rates have been falling more or less steadily since the 1980s.

According to the SF Chronicle, 710 shoplifting incidents were reported in the city from January to April of 2021 in comparison to 933 shoplifting periods from the same period in 2019, an actual decrease.

Shoplifting decreased in San Francisco during the pandemic – some suggest mainly because many stores being temporarily or permanently shut down.

The shutdowns that occurred in the city required retail and non- essential stores to be completely closed for periods of time, making people unable to enter the store, and making it very difficult to shoplift.

A recent survey conducted by the SF Chronicle found that 22 major U.S. retailers had an average 41 percent decrease in shoplifting overall from 2019-2020 but increased by eight percent for non- major stores.

The survey does suggest that shoplifting increased at chain stores such as CVS or Walgreens in San Francisco, especially since CVS and Walgreens were considered essential stores, and did not fully shut down.

However, public data does not show an overall increase in shoplifting in San Francisco.

While incidents have decreased in comparison to previous years, San Francisco’s property crime rates are still remarkably high compared with other major cities in the United States. In 2019, the city had the highest rate of property crime of any area in California.

The reasons that contribute to the high property crime rates include the city’s gentrification, extraordinarily high rent, population density, job competition, current economic inequality, and poverty rates that currently exist to this day, according to studies.

Even with this in mind, shoplifting has been declining in San Francisco since 1985, according to the data from the California Department of Justice, which is in line with broader national trends: between 2009 and 2018 property crime rates in the U.S. dropped by 23 percent, according to the FBI.

Researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California in 2018 found that “California’s crime rates remain comparable to the low rates of the 1960s.” While looking at reductions in incarceration by recent criminal justice reform, crime rates continue to remain comparable to the 1960s.

While shoplifting incidents have not increased this year or the last year, the rate of shoplifting that has ended with arrest or in allegations has declined, which dates back to January 2018.

The San Francisco Police Department has chosen to not comment yet on the shoplifting data and why citations and arrest rates have decreased.

Although, in a recent police board meeting, police officers mentioned how shoplifters are becoming more courageous in these incidents, and acknowledged how shoplifting rates are often underreported.

State and local crime clearance shows that the underreported shoplifting rates are not San Franciscan’s fault, but possibly SFPD’s low rate of making arrests (4.9 percent) in reported thefts compared to police elsewhere in the state (10.5 percent).

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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3 thoughts on “Are Shoplifting Rates in San Francisco Rising? Data Says Nope”

  1. Alan Miller

    From the SF Examiner today:  Five SF Target stores to shut down at 6pm instead of 10pm due to severe increase in shoplifting.

    For more than a month, we’ve been experiencing a significant and alarming rise in theft and security incidents at our San Francisco stores, similar to reports from other retailers in the area. Target is engaging local law enforcement, elected officials and community partners to address our concerns. With the safety of our guests, team members and communities as our top priority, we’ve temporarily reduced our operating hours in five San Francisco stores.

    I’m sure they’re just lying.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      Bah!  It was a travesty when Target moved into the Metreon.  Such an incredible waste of a beautiful property (it’s right next to and has views of Yerba Buena Gardens).  When I lived in the city, if you wanted to go to Target, you drove to Daly City or Colma.

    2. David Greenwald

      There is another possibility. One thing the Retails Association has pointed to is the existence of theft rings – they *hire* people to hit various targets and can do a lot of damage. It therefore possible that there are theft rings operating that have found a soft target. The data show that shoplifting overall has not increased, that doesn’t mean there aren’t trends within that data. It’s just like when we get bicycle theft rings or catalytic converter theft rings that pop up, it might not be large enough to move the needle on the overall crime rate, but it could be enough to cause a nuisance in a given area.

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