San Francisco's Shoplifting Problem And Broken Windows

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

San Francisco has a major problem. Well, it has a lot of them, but one of the worse is the city is plagued by shoplifters. Brazen individuals who don’t just slip an item under their shirt and hope no one finds out. No, we’re talking about people who ride a bike into a drug store with a garbage bag and just start pulling stuff off the shelf in front of God and everybody.

And yes, it is an issue.

Brazen thieves in San Francisco are undeterred by uniformed security guards, surveillance cameras or customers filming on their cellphones. And corner markets and drug stores are the hardest hit. In one recent incident at a Walgreens, the shoplifter rode in on a bike, packed a trash bag of items, and rode out the front door. All of it was caught on camera. The thief hasn’t been arrested.

Jalal Haydari, owner of Limoncello Italian Market and Deli, said his store in tony Pacific Heights is targeted day and night. His 32 cameras catch criminals in the act all the time. In one video, a thief is seen breaking through a window and making off with cash and the electronic tablets needed to take delivery orders.

Another video shows a man loitering around the deli counter. He then takes as many food containers and drinks as he can carry, and walks right out the door without paying.

But broken windows are costing him much more than stolen merchandise — almost $23,000 in the past year.

Why is this happening?

Well, Haydari has a pretty good idea who is responsible.

Haydari blames San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, and Prop. 47, a 2014 California law that lowered the penalty for non-violent thefts under $950. He says there’s simply no deterrent for petty thieves.

“What [city officials] are doing, they are just promoting this crime. Promoting people to do more, because $950, or $1,000 or $2,000, it doesn’t matter — they get away with it,” Haydari said.

The California law was passed by people who thought the problem was that the police were too hard on petty criminals, so they all but decriminalized these thefts.

However, as bad as Haydari is getting hammered, that may end up being the least of San Francisco’s and the rest of California’s problems.

See, to understand this, we need to talk about broken window policing. The approach has a bad reputation, with proponents calling it racist, but the idea is sound and it’s gotten results. Basically, the idea is that you deal with the small stuff so people don’t end up doing the big stuff. Someone who busts a window may well graduate to busting heads. Someone who shoplifts may also end up being the kind of person who shoots someone.

Further, there’s the fact that people who shoot others probably don’t feel too badly about breaking windows or shoplifting. Yet if you pick them up for those more minor crimes, guess what happens? They’re not really at liberty to commit bigger crimes.

New York City used this approach and the crime rate plummeted.

What I fear is in store for California is that they’ll see the opposite. By failing to address the smaller crimes, they’ll only encourage people to go on to commit worse and worse criminal acts. Rather than ushering in a golden era of enlightenment, they’re going to usher in a violate age of hatred and strife.

All because people somehow thought it would be better to allow people to steal almost $1,000 worth of stuff with little to no penalty to speak of.

It’s going to get worse unless Californians wake the hell up and do it now.