Two national chains shuttered stores because of the rampant theft. CVS shut two stores around Market St. and Walgreen’s closed 17 outlets in San Francisco. Thieves are filling up shopping carts and walking out the front door, ignoring clerks’ shouts to stop. And then there’s the infamous heist at Neiman Marcus’ luxury store on Union Square. About 10 people wearing hoodies and facemasks cleaned out designer handbags and ran out the front door to three waiting cars.
Property crime has exploded in San Francisco since state law was changed in 2018, setting the limit for misdemeanors at $950. Previously it was $500. Throw in the factor that many district attorneys, particularly progressive ones such as the San Francisco DA, will not pursue charges.
Sadly, it’s not limited to San Francisco. Out-of-town gangs of thieves are coming into the suburbs to pull off similar crimes. Matt Richert, owner of Richert Lumber ACE Hardware on Sunol Boulevard, has seen his power tools pilfered on several occasions. Thieves grab a shopping cart, fill it with tools and then walk out the door, ignoring employees who are yelling at them to stop. They have a getaway car with driver waiting.
Richert said often the license plate is taped over. When police have traced plates, they find the thieves are driving into the valley from the San Joaquin Valley. It’s clear they are organized thieves who know that power tools are easily fenced.
Richert praised the Pleasanton police who have been responsive. Like most retailers, he’s instructed his employees not to pursue or engage with the thieves because he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. Naturally, that frustrated everyone. The stolen stuff is covered by insurance. The organized theft has led him to continue with just one way into the store—the traditional entrance has been closed since the shutdown.
It's not limited to just Richert, which is located pretty close to I-680. A friend told me the Safeway on Bernal, also right by the freeway, has seen people load up shopping carts with liquor and wine and walk out into the parking lot.
Further north of I-680, the city of Walnut Creek and Nordstrom are being proactive. The San Francisco Business Times reported the agreed to station two uniformed officers inside the store. Nordstrom will pay the costs and officers will work overtime shifts to handle the extra duties. The officers are designed to deter shoplifting or worse such as the gang-organized trashing of Neiman Marcus on Union Square in downtown San Francisco.
I remember the images from the summer of 2020 riots from Broadway Plaza in downtown Walnut Creek. Twenty to 30 thieves were breaking into storefronts while two lonely police officers hung back and watched. The cops were hopelessly outnumbered and, short of pulling weapons and shooting people, there was nothing they could do. And, it obviously was not worth taking a life.
What’s clear is that the law change encouraged crime and needs to be revisited. Gov. Gavin Newsom did sign a new law that established a $500 limit if it can be proven the thieves were acting as an organized gang—a pretty high bar for a non-violent crime.