Back in November 2014, Proposition 47 became a law in the city. Under the ordinance, shoplifting or attempted shoplifting up to $950 of goods would now be downgraded to a misdemeanor. The new law meant that thieves can steal items without worrying about their criminal records. The thefts have also contributed to San Francisco becoming one of the epicenters for organized retail crime in the U.S.
Two drugstore chains – CVS and Walgreens – have closed most of their locations in San Francisco because of shoplifting. Alongside other small businesses, the drugstores have reported more than 100 percent product loss rates as a result.
San Francisco District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai said in a statement that organized criminal activity accounts for 85 percent of business losses in the city, which he described as "just shocking." The supervisor elaborated: "[Criminal gangs] will rob about maybe $1,000 to $2,000 worth of goods … from 10 stores or more in a single day."
According to reports, Walgreens had closed 17 stores over the last five years due to thefts. The store closures have had negative repercussions on the communities the Walgreens stores serve. "It impacts everyone – seniors, families [and] small businesses," Safai remarked.
Meanwhile, CVS Organized Retail Crime and Corporate Investigations Director Brendan Dugan confirmed the shoplifting in San Francisco stores. He commented: "At CVS, 42 percent of losses within the Bay [Area] got here from 12 shops in San Francisco – that are solely eight percent of the market share."
The CVS and Walgreens closures mainly impacted two categories of people – namely vulnerable elderly residents and those who do not access to vehicles. Elderly patients are forced to go far to get their necessary prescriptions filled as most of these stores also serve as pharmacies. Residents without cars are meanwhile forced to travel several miles just to shop.
According to Safai, residents are now afraid to enter stores because of "uncontrolled" gangs roaming store aisles. "It's simply taking place overtly," Safai remarked. The supervisor called on prosecutors and law enforcement to do a better job at protecting these businesses. He commented: "It's not that nothing has been done, but certainly we need to do better."
Proposition 47 supporters said the money saved from passing the measure would be redirected to social welfare programs tackling several issues. Incidentally, New York City came up with a similar proposal back in June of last year. A June 2020 Bloomberg report said Mayor Bill de Blasio presented a plan to the city council to shift about $1 billion from the police's budget to social programs.
The mayor added that aside from the $1 billion budget cut at the New York Police Department (NYPD), he also proposed that a separate $500 million be slashed from the department's allocation. This would then be used toward youth recreation centers and public housing. However, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch denounced de Blasio's budget cuts. The head of the police union slammed the mayor and the city council for having "surrendered to lawlessness."
Defunding the NYPD came with severe consequences as the city experienced a spike in shooting incidents. Two months after de Blasio announced the police budget cuts, the Big Apple saw more than 50 shooting-related deaths in three days. NYPD figures revealed that the city saw a 220 percent rise in shootings in 2020 compared to the year before. According to the department, bail reforms passed into law in 2019 prevented criminals from serving jail time even after repeated arrests.
The chaotic situation in New York City even led former President Donald Trump to warn de Blasio. Trump tweeted that the federal government would step in to address the rising gun violence if the mayor cannot do so.
Later in the year, former Attorney General William Barr cited New York City, Portland and Seattle as three places that allowed violence and destruction of property to continue. He said in a September 2020 statement: "When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected. Barr also warned that the Department of Justice "cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance.
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