S.F. unveils initiative to tackle rise in retail thefts

Incidents are not victimless crimes, mayor says

San Francisco police joined Mayor London Breed on Wednesday to unveil a new initiative that aims to address rampant retail thefts in The City as well as the criminal organizations driving them.

Created in response to a recent rise in such thefts and a video of a brazen theft that went viral, the Organized Retail Crime Initiative calls for strengthened reporting and investigation between the San Francisco Police Department, local retailers and other law enforcement agencies.

“What we’ve seen in terms of thefts and burglaries has been definitely frustrating,” Breed said during a briefing at SFPD headquarters on Wednesday. “The videos that have gone viral don’t necessarily tell the full story about what’s happening in San Francisco.”

According to Breed, retail thefts are not victimless crimes, as mounting thefts ultimately result in some businesses deciding to limit store hours or leave The City altogether.

“When these stores decide they don’t want to do business in this city and they close, people lose their jobs. When the pharmacies decide, ‘We’re going to close in this neighborhood because we have too many challenges with thefts,’ the seniors and folks who depend on the medications from those pharmacies, they lose. The community loses,” she said.

The initiative consists of several elements, including: expanding SFPD’s Organized Retail Crime Unit from two investigators to six; working more closely with the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force; recruiting more retired police officers to patrol neighborhoods as part of the SFPD Community Ambassador program; and strengthening the Teleserv Unit, a phone and online crime reporting service implemented during the pandemic.

“These crimes are underreported,” SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott said.

“We encourage everyone to report these crimes as soon as they happen so we know where to put our resources and we can work together on that,” he said. “So, we do expect to see an increase (in these crimes) because of better reporting.”

Scott added, “Everybody is impacted by this. Retailers have had to make adjustments… locking up merchandise, particularly merchandise that is frequently stolen. And that affects our experience as well, so we have to do a better job.”

In June, cellphone video that went viral captured a man calmly stealing merchandise from a Hayes Valley Walgreens, despite the presence of a security guard, then riding away from the scene on a bicycle.

The suspect, 40-year-old Jean Lugo Romero, was arrested and charged with robbery, burglary and grand theft in connection with the Walgreens robbery as well as seven other shoplifting incidents

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The video sparked extensive debate about the efficacy of laws on shoplifting, including 2014’s Proposition 47, which reclassified some crimes including shoplifting from felonies to misdemeanors.

— Bay City News

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