Walgreens shutters wave of San Francisco stores over ‘organised’ shoplifting despite city’s promise to crack down on retail theft

·2 min read

Walgreens will close five more stores in San Francisco as viral videos of "organised" shoplifters going unchallenged continue to fuel an impression the city is permissive of low-level crime.

The closures will double the number of stores shuttered in San Francisco since the start of 2019, when Walgreens announced restructure plans to close 200 stores across the United States by 2022.

“Organised retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that,” Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso told SF Gate, which was first to report the closures.

“Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average."

Mr Caruso said the company was closing the stores in San Francisco despite increasing their investment in security to "46 times" the average of chains across the United States.

The company closed one San Francisco store in 2020 it said was losing $1,000 a day to shoplifting, while videos of thieves shoving items into black trash bags have continued to circulate online.

In June last year, a bike-riding shoplifter was filmed emptying store shelves at a pharmacy before riding straight past store security guards who made little attempt to stop him.

The San Francisco Police Department announced in June 2021 they had arrested Jean Lugo-Romero, 40, charged with attempted grand theft for allegedly stealing $978 worth of merchandise.

That specific amount of $978 is significant, as it passes the $950 threshold set in 2014 for shoplifting to be a misdemeanour, which critics have blamed for the spate of viral shoplifting videos in recent years.

California’s Proposition 47 lowered sentences for nonviolent crimes like shoplifting of items under $950, which generally don’t prompt arrests. Anything over that amount becomes a felony and can incur harsher penalties.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and police chief Bill Scott announced a crackdown on shoplifters in June, including an increase in officers in the organised retail crime unit and the creation of a system to make it easier to report shoplifting.

Ms Breed said the organized shoplifting resulted in closed stores like pharmacies and markets, which ended up hurting the community that relied on them for work, medication, and food.

“We care about criminal justice reform. We care about second chances. We care about making sure that people are not wrongly accused,” Ms Breed said, according to the Associated Press. “But don’t take our kindness for weakness, our compassion for weakness.”