Safeway battles thieves and police 

Two Safeway supermarkets in San Francisco endure more shoplifting than any of the 270 stores the chain operates in Northern California and Hawaii, and warding off the five-finger swindlers hasn’t been easy.

For years, the heavily trafficked stores at Market and Church streets and 16th and Bryant streets have been hotbeds for theft. But citing and prosecuting thieves for relatively low-priority crimes poses a challenge in a major city that has to focus resources elsewhere, such as on gangs, guns and felony thefts.

And while one shoplifter is caught, another is likely lurking in the aisle.

“I shop here regularly and I’ve seen it a lot,” said Jack Schainen, 76, of San Francisco, who was waiting for his wife at the Market and Church streets store. “I’ve seen people openly eating at the [prepared foods] counter. People are hungry.”

Safeway and the Police Department have worked closely through the years to curb the crimes, but they haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on enforcement.

Through half of 2007 and all of 2008, special SFPD units patrolled the stores to crack down on thefts, which helped somewhat, Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton said.

However, Safeway is on its own now, Houghton said. The store uses a private security company to monitor theft, but Houghton said the stores don’t receive an adequate response from The City when thieves are nabbed.

“We understand they’re understaffed,” she said. “When [shoplifters] are arrested, we find that many are not cited or prosecuted.”

Police dispute that claim.

“If Safeway calls or if anyone calls [about a crime], it’s a citizen’s arrest,” Sgt. Troy Dangerfield said. “We will do the citation or booking or anything that needs to be done.”

Higher priority is paid to shoplifters who become violent or are wanted, Dangerfield said.

“It’s nothing off an officer’s back to write a citation,” he said.

Safeway officials said they would not call for every small theft, according to the Police Department, since they happen so often that the phones would ring off the hook. A police official at a recent CompStat meeting said Safeway’s private security company has more incentive to bust thieves than prevent thefts.

“They’re the ones that said to not even call them,” Houghton said of the police. “We would welcome a stronger police presence.”

Many of the thieves steal products and resell them at the open-air market at Seventh and Market streets, Houghton said. Beauty supplies and liquor are among items stolen for resale, she said.

“Quite frankly, this is a problem that’s much larger than Safeway,” she said.

Police have expressed a desire in recent weeks to clamp down on the thefts, hoping their new data-collection capabilities can help officers home in on upticks without straining resources.

maldax@sfexaminer.com


Safeway stats

32 Manufacturing plants
270 Stores in Northern California, Hawaii
1,775 Stores in U.S., Canada
186,000 Union employees
$40.9 billion Sales, other revenue in 2009

Source: Safeway

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