By S. Priana Aquino
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “Is there an epidemic of shoplifting by ‘organized gangs’’ in San Francisco? And does it prove that the state’s efforts at criminal justice reform have failed?” asks journalist Judd Legum of his Twitter followers, pointing out the increase in cases of crime is not reflected in city data.
In an article co-authored by research assistant Tesnim Zekeria and research intern, Rebecca Crosby, it’s noted that San Francisco shoplifting crimes are at its lowest since the collecting of this data had begun 45 years ago.
“The latest data from the San Francisco Police Department, which includes incidents through October, shows that there were 24,890 larceny thefts in 2021, which is a 13 percent increase from the same period last year,” the article states. “But the overall number of thefts remains well below the level of 2019, when there were 35,512 thefts through October.”
Despite what the data shows, people on Twitter questioned Legum’s argument.
“Such a massive flaw in your reasoning, and others have mentioned it: you are assuming that the information flow–in other words, the reports of shoplifting–have not been impacted at all by a feeling that reporting it is a total waste of time. You’re assuming reporting is static,” wrote one user.
Another responded, “I’ve experienced several instances personally where cops say, ‘do you really want to file a report? It doesn’t really make a difference.”
Another user asked “Why is every $5 item barricaded behind a locked case? The store wasn’t built this way; they were added at considerable expense. This is what you see with your own eyes if you actually live here.”
But what SF residents have been seeing is averse to what the data shows. While there has not been an increase in the number of reported thefts, there has been an influx of social media posts showcasing shoplifting in stores throughout the Bay Area.
The increase in concern over loss of products has recently been cited by Walgreens as the reason why they are planning to close five of its stores in San Francisco.
“Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that,” Walgreens said in October, announcing the closure of the five stores.
The company told the New York Times in May that “thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and… the scale of thefts had made business untenable.”
However, people including Legum have doubts over the truth of Walgreen’s statement.
Many see the issue of shoplifting as a scapegoat for Walgreen’s other possible reasons for their store closures. Further, the claims that Walgreens have made cast further doubt on the efforts of SF District Attorney, Chesa Boudin.
Legum writes that “instead of acknowledging that the data does not support claims of sharp increase of shoplifting in San Francisco, [a news outlet] shifted its focus on “unnoticed, unreported theft. These stories typically pin the blame on San Francisco Mayor London Breed, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and the 2014 ballot initiative, Proposition 47.”
In a previous Vanguard article and according to ABC7 News, Data shows that Boudin has dramatically reduced the number of shoplifting cases he has chosen to prosecute since taking office in Jan. 2020.
Prosecutions for theft under $950 dropped from 70 percent under the previous DA, to 44 percent under Boudin in 2020. That number rose 6 percent by mid-June 2021.