This week, a video from a San Francisco Walgreens went viral on Twitter. The video depicted a man standing next to his bicycle, loading up a garbage bag with products. The man then rides his bicycle down the aisle, past a security guard, who limply throws out a hand to try to grab the bag; the shoplifter simply brushes past him, then rides out the door.
This sort of thing has become exceedingly common in San Francisco. In late May, Thomas Fuller wrote in The New York Times, “At a board of supervisors hearing last week, representatives from Walgreens said that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable.” Employees at Walgreens had been told to stand aside as shoplifting took place because security officers had been assaulted repeatedly.
All of this is the result of a 2014 California ballot measure that reclassified nonviolent theft as a misdemeanor, so long as the thief took less than $950 worth of material. Thieves quickly hit on a strategy: Hit up different stores for less than $950 worth of stuff. Then, amid the Black Lives Matter protests and riots of 2020, San Francisco decided to crack down on the police. Mayor London Breed announced that booking photos would no longer be released, lest the prevalence of Black and brown faces lead to stereotyping; she announced a $120 million cut to the police and sheriff’s department over the next two years, in the interest of “prioritizing investments in the African American community;” in the first six months of 2020, 23 officers resigned from the force.