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Shoplifting on the rise in SF? Huge spike in reported incidents linked to a target shows what the data can tell us




As San Francisco remains trapped in a heated debate over how best to respond to crime, shoplifting has become one of the hotspots of the battle, dividing people along strong political lines. But crime experts say the data needed to accurately measure shoplifting is woefully inadequate.

There is no better example of the problem than the shoplifting data kept by the San Francisco Police Department.

As of January 2018, reported shoplifting incidents are relatively constant at around 250 per month; they drop sharply when the pandemic begins, then start to slowly increase as the city reopens. And then in September 2021, they inexplicably double.

A closer look at the data shows that the spike in reported shoplifting is almost entirely attributable to one store: the Target at 789 Mission Street in the Metreon Mall. In September alone, 154 shoplifting reports were filed at the southern intersection of Market where Target is located, up from 13 in August. And then, in October, the reports from that intersection went down to 17.

What happened to this particular target? Did the store experience a massive spike in shoplifting in September? No, said store manager Stacy Abbott. The store was simply using a new police reporting system that allows retailers to report criminal incidents over the phone.

When asked why reports of shoplifting declined again in October, Abbott said she would no longer be able to answer questions and directed The Chronicle to the police department as well as the Targets media team, who also did not answer questions.

Police spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca said the new reporting system was available to other businesses and individuals on weekdays, not just the target. He did not respond to questions about how long the system had been in place or whether the department had seen an increase in shoplifting incidents in other stores since the system was implemented (the data available to the public do not show such an increase).

Although the observed spike in the data generates more questions than answers, one thing is clear: The decision of a single store (albeit large and busy) to report the majority of its shoplifting incidents has doubled. monthly shoplifting rates for the entire city.

The lack of clear data means that the debate over issues like shoplifting is not based on clear facts, allowing either side of the divide to say they are right.

People alarmed by shoplifting, including leaders of large retail associations like the California Retail Association, say crime increased dramatically during the pandemic, leading to a wave of store closings across the city. They report stores are cutting back hours and company spokespersons say shoplifting and the need for security have increased, and they refer to incidents such as the mass robberies last Friday at Louis Vuitton and other high end luxury goods stores.

They argue that police data will always be inaccurate because in a city that has historically struggled with high property crime rates, store workers do not witness or report most incidents. And they say leniency in the criminal justice system plays a role, with stores dropping reporting because they think people aren’t going to be punished anyway.

But on the other side, there are people who question whether the depictions of burgeoning shoplifting are accurate, and fear that these depictions could spark fear and strict policies that set aside necessary reforms. of criminal justice.

People like Supervisor Dean Preston and Mayor London Breed tend to question the accounts of larger retailers. They point out that large companies announcing store closures, like Walgreens, have announced that they will soon be closure of hundreds of stores in 2019, before the pandemic. These stores have been beaten by the wave of e-commerce.

They note that the pandemic may have resulted in reduced foot traffic in these stores and therefore reduced profits. And they’re referring to police data, which shows reports of shoplifting and theft have declined during the pandemic.

While both sides have plenty of reasonable-sounding anecdotes and arguments, neither can provide reliable data on actual shoplifting rates in the city, as there are none, Read Hayes said, criminologist at the University of Florida and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council.




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