SAN FRANCISCO—To native San Franciscans, shoplifting and car break-ins are now a normal part of life in a big city.
Car burglaries occur up to 74 times a day in the city and have increased nearly 200 percent since 2020. Some residents are going to extreme lengths to prevent their car windows from being smashed, like leaving their trunks open and their windows down, according to local reports.
On a recent Saturday at Alamo Square Park across from the famed Painted Ladies houses, Kira Cush, a lifelong San Francisco resident who’s had her car broken into multiple times, said “it’s just something, especially if you live in this area, you need to be mindful to just not leave anything in your car.”
“And even then, still, cars will get broken into, but you have to be super vigilant about not leaving stuff out,” she told The Epoch Times.
Loretta, another local resident who declined to give her last name, said suspects will usually target tourists. After her car was broken into, she placed a residential sticker on her windshield to deter burglars.
“We’ve had people dump goods, like tourists’ backpacks and stuff in our neighborhood from a smash and grab, because they got whatever they wanted, and they just dumped the rest on the street,” the 21-year resident said.
Hot spots for car break-ins usually happen near heavily crowded tourist attractions, such as Lombard Street, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, and Moraga Stairs.
At the Pier 39 parking lot, a resident of 46 years could be seen driving around and yelling at tourists to find another parking location. He told The Epoch Times he decided to take matters into his own hands and visit every morning until noon to warn tourists about the car break-ins.
“What’s happened over the last 10 months is that this crime has escalated, from hitting cars, to robbing tourists, to robbing locals, to robbing stores. I mean, it’s just gotten rampant, absolutely rampant,” he said. The local declined to give his name out of fear he would be identified by suspects.
“The cops aren’t going to make arrests, and the [district attorney] is not going to prosecute. Then the only way to stop this is to basically have less food for the street sharks to go after. So, you have to warn people, you have to physically warn them not to leave anything in their cars,” he said.
Large-scale smash-and-grab robberies have also been making national headlines—drawing additional criticism to the city’s progressive criminal reform policies.
Many store owners in Chinatown have changed their hours and now lock up their shops when the sun goes down. Walgreens hired off-duty cops to guard their stores and closed five of its 53 locations. Retail shops are relying on private security guards to deter shoplifters. A security guard in Oakland was shot and killed while protecting a KRON4 News reporter.
And San Francisco Mayor London Breed recently announced a local state of emergency in the Tenderloin district to counter the open-air drug market and curtail assaults in the neighborhood.
Crime Wave Controversy
While brazen thefts at small businesses and retail stores in San Francisco have increased, drawing national headlines since the beginning of this year, some business owners told The Epoch Times they’ve stopped reporting the crimes because when they call the police, “they can’t do anything.”
Some point to Proposition 47, a seven-year-old initiative that reduced some sentences from felonies to misdemeanors. Under the law, up to $950 can be stolen before it’s considered a felony. Even when arrests are made, they’re not held for long under the state’s zero cash bail policy.
The California Supreme Court ruled in March that judges must consider a suspect’s financial ability to pay when setting bail prices, which permits the defendants to walk freely until further legal action is taken unless they’re deemed too dangerous.
And in the wake of new progressive district attorneys across the country vowing to redefine criminal justice, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has taken the bulk of the blame in the eyes of locals who don’t think he’s doing enough to penalize criminals.
Promising a more equitable justice system, Boudin—who is also facing a potential recall in June 2022—defended Prop. 47 in a SF Gate column on Dec. 21, a few weeks after a string of organized retail gangs committed smash-and-grab robberies across several shopping centers including Union Square and Santana Way.
“Blaming legal reforms is equally misguided. Rolling back Proposition 47 would not solve the problems we are facing now. California’s felony theft threshold of $950 is still among the lowest in the country—38 states have felony thresholds at or above $1,000—and Texas has a threshold of $2,500,” Boudin wrote.
“Proposition 47 also passed seven years ago and was followed by a decline in property crimes. Its passage did not prevent prosecutors from being able to hold those who commit organized retail thefts accountable; for example, all the charges in Union Square were still felonies.”
Even though city stats show there’s been a slight decline in property crimes this year, it’s likely the data does not accurately reflect the real numbers when considering many business owners have stopped reporting crimes, according to a local activist.
“I never used to see the amount of shoplifting that we have today. Never—it is pure insanity. It is awful. It’s off the charts,” San Francisco resident and activist Erica Sandberg told The Epoch Times.
Sandberg said one of her friends was also attacked outside of his apartment by someone who tried to stab him.
“It’s really hard for me to say that this is normal because it’s not normal. But it is increasingly common,” she said.
According to a retail study from August, about 69 percent of retailers nationwide said they saw an increase in organized retail crime activity over the past year. Some of the potential driving factors include COVID-19 restrictions, policing, changes to sentencing guidelines, and the growth of online marketplaces for criminal activity.
“Perpetrators are becoming more common in an era where it is easy to evade prosecution,” one retailer noted in the survey.
Making matters worse, the San Francisco Police Department is significantly understaffed, with patrol units suffering the most, according to Sergeant Richard Cibotti. He told The Epoch Times the department currently loses between 5-10 officers a month to other departments or retirement.
“A lot of cops have felt like they’ve lost a purpose,” Cibotti said. “They’ve gotten the job because they wanted to help people and go out and you know, make arrests and try to improve life in the community. But when they go out, and they make arrests … when the people that they arrest are getting no consequences, it feels like they’ve lost their purpose.”
He said every day around 7:00 pm, high-end retail stores—like Louis Vuitton—in Union Square close for the evening. There’s also an added police presence to the area until the holiday season is over.
Small Business Owner Speaks Out
Michael Hsu spent one dismal morning sweeping up broken glass from the entryway of his sneaker and clothing shop, Footprint, located on the corner of Taraval Street and 27th Avenue. However, it was business as usual when his employees came to work that day.
“We have a smile on our face. We just have to carry on. We can’t close our store. We still have to pay rent. We still have our employees, they still have to eat, so we just carry on like we normally would,” Hsu told The Epoch Times.
The previous night, a suspect blowtorched the front entryway before clearing the shelves of thousands of dollars in brand-name hoodies, shirts, shoes, and other accessories. No arrests were made, but some of the items were later found. It’s still under investigation with the San Francisco Police Department, Hsu said.
Later that same day, looters entered the shop and stole more items. It was another hit to Hsu’s morale. He urged his district supervisor, Gordon Mar, to set up a relief fund to help businesses recover from burglaries. Mayor London Breed joined Mar in holding a press conference at Footprint to announce the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant—a $2,000 program to help small businesses who’ve been victimized by burglaries.
That was in February. In September, Hsu’s store was hit yet again. This time, surveillance video—bought with funds from the vandalism relief grant—showed that the suspect climbed up the exterior wall’s scaffolding and broke through the window to Hsu’s office. Thousands of dollars in goods were stolen again.
“Crime is there, and it seems like there’s no consequences,” Hsu said, adding that Prop. 47 sends the wrong message to San Franciscans. “As a new father, I don’t want my kid to know that—we need to teach them the difference between right and wrong, and let them know it’s not okay to take anything, even if it’s $1. It’s not okay, and that’s the message that we really need to be sending out.”