Despite Recent San Francisco Retail Theft Stings, Data Indicates Rates on the Decline

Despite Recent San Francisco Retail Theft Stings, Data Indicates Rates on the Decline Photo Source: Adobe Stock Image

Over the past week, San Francisco has been the target of brazen organized crime retail theft. Last Saturday, roughly 80 individuals rushed into a Nordstrom store just outside of San Francisco in the city of Walnut Creek and made off with over $200,000 worth in merchandise, according to officials.

The attack was quick and appeared to be organized. Officials investigating the incident explain that a mob suddenly descended on the store. Footage captured by a local news outlet shows a string of cars blocking the street near the store’s entrance. Thieves can be seen running out of the store before jumping into getaway cars, some of which had their license plates concealed. At least one store employee was pepper-sprayed while two others were kicked and punched.

The shocking attack comes just one day after several high-end businesses in San Francisco’s Union Square were targeted in what has been described as an organized “smash and grab” attack. The thieves followed a similar fashion of concealing their identity, quickly and boldly entering the stores before making out with thousands of dollars in merchandise. The brazen attacks have left many high-end retailers boarding up storefronts and limiting hours of operation or hiring additional security.

As the attacks make national headlines, some are left criticizing the state’s 2014 justice reform measure, Proposition 47. The measure was approved by 59% of voters and tackled justice reform laws in an effort to curb crime and help the state save money. As part of the measure, crimes that would have been classified as felonies are now classified as misdemeanors. The thought was that by a reclassification of certain crimes, the strain on the justice system would be alleviated and those who committed certain theft and drug crimes would have a chance to get the needed support for recovery that would have otherwise not been possible if their crimes were charged as felonies. Although the initiative passed, it was met with criticism by both officials and the public.

Supporters of the measure maintain that those who would have otherwise gone to jail for petty crimes have now had an opportunity to turn their lives around. Michael Romano, who heads the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project and also helped co-author Proposition 47, shares that "in the long term, this reallocation of resources should significantly improve public safety."

Some law enforcement agencies and officials disagree that the measure’s benefits outweigh the negative impacts it's having on the state. State assemblyman Jim Cooper Grove highlights that the measure has led to an increase in shoplifting rates, especially in cities. Cooper explains that the increase in shoplifting rates is due to organized theft rings like the ones seen in the brazen attacks over the past week.

Throughout the nation, proposition 47 has been advertised as the reason for the apparent rise in brazen retail theft. The bill raised the dollar amount in which a theft could be charged as a felony. Previously, thefts of goods over $400 could be prosecuted. Now, goods must total at least $950 before a theft can be charged as a felony.

Viral footage of two individuals stuffing duffle bags with goods they pulled off of the shelves of a Granada Hills T.J. Maxx helped fuel this narrative that California was no longer taking thefts seriously. San Francisco Police Chief William Scott shared with NBC News that, unlike felonies that can be brought forward by law enforcement, misdemeanor arrests can only take place after a private person calls for the arrest to happen. Scott explains that for many business owners, there is a real fear of calling the police after brazen attacks take place.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has pushed back against the notion that the state is not taking thefts seriously. "Sadly, as it relates to crime, we've gotten a lot of negative attention," Breed shared during a press conference. "What is not getting the attention is the fact when you do come to San Francisco and commit a crime, you will be arrested by this department."

Police Chief Scott also shares that while the smash and grab attacks are no doubt shocking, the statistics do not support the national impression that theft rates are increasing throughout the state. Despite alarming headlines that California has experienced a surge in theft largely because of Proposition 47, the city’s police data maintains rates are actually on the decline.

The SF Chronicle details that thefts over the past year have actually been lower than the previous years. Between January and April 2021 there have been 710 shoplifting reports compared to the previous year's 933 incidents during the same period.

The Chronicle also conducted a survey that showed 22 of the nation's major retailers saw a 41% decrease in shoplifting between 2019 and 2020. However, for smaller stores, there was actually an 8% increase.

According to recent data by the San Francisco police department, a citywide profile of crime shows that there has been a 12% decrease in robberies and a 9% decrease in larceny thefts as well.

Despite data showing thefts appear to be on the decline, that hasn’t stopped the city’s growing concern over the latest retail thefts that have cast a negative light on the city. Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom blasted the thefts saying that he had “no sympathy or empathy” for the attackers. He added, “We want real accountability, we want people prosecuted, and we want people to feel safe.”

In anticipation of the holiday season, Newsom has increased the police presence in “highly trafficked” areas and has since signed into law a measure that would tackle organized retail crime.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.