SF Walgreens puts chains on freezers as shoplifters target store 20 times a day, employee says

Luz Pena Image
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
SF Walgreens puts chains on freezers to stop shoplifters
Shoplifting continues to be an issue for stores across San Francisco. A Walgreens store put chains on its freezers to help stop the ongoing theft.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Shoplifting continues to be a major issue for stores across San Francisco.

Shoplifting crimes increased by 20% in San Francisco from pre-pandemic stats in 2019 to 2022, according to the California Department of Justice.

Now, a Walgreens in the city's Richmond District is locking its freezers with chains in response.

Cell phone video taken Monday shows some of the brazen crime that has been driving retailers out of San Francisco.

Reporter Luz Peña of ABC7's sister station KGO went to San Francisco's Richmond District to see it first hand. She also spoke to workers and business owners in the area.

It didn't take long. Within the first hour of being at Walgreens on Geary Boulevard at 17th Avenue, Peña witnessed multiple shoplifters.

One of them even took the time to explain why he simply didn't pay: "It's San Francisco, Bro."

Off camera, a Walgreens employee told Peña they are hit 15 to 20 times a day. Out of frustration a week and a half ago, they decided to chain up their freezer section.

The freezers are one of the hardest hit aisles in their store. Now, when you want something you have to press a button. A message goes off on the overhead speaker and an employee comes to unlock the freezer.

According to the employee Peña spoke to, company policy says they can't challenge shoplifters, but a customer has.

"Sometimes I have stopped people myself. It just frustrates me so much to see the neighborhood fall apart and to have to ask somebody to unlock things," said Justin Van Zandt, a San Francisco Resident.

Almost every aisle has products locked behind plastic cases. Peña asked what the brown marks were on and turns out shoplifters have tried to burn the cases. A vendor who did not want his face on camera said he saw four shoplifters in the couple hours he was working at the store.

"They just help themselves. The problem is that they are not punished," said the vendor.

After a viral video of a robbery taking place right in front of security in a San Francisco Walgreens, the company says this is not a new problem for them in the city.

Sgt. O'meara of the San Francisco Police Department was on foot patrol outside the store.

"It's getting worse. Yes, because more and more people are coming into the West side of the city on the 38 bus line, and they are getting off and they are stealing out of this store," said O'meara.

He did not want his face on camera, but said he detained eight people shoplifting on Monday.

But O'meara did not actually make any arrests on Monday. The reason: Because "the store didn't wish to put citizen arrest on them. They just wanted their product back."

Sliding barriers at the self-checkout area that open when a receipt is scanned are now at Safeway stores in the Fillmore and the Outer Mission.

Walgreens is not the only store that's been victimized by crime in the same area.

Across from the store is Cigarettes Cheaper. They were burglarized a month ago. The owner said he lost over $100,000 in merchandise and cash.

"I hope that somebody pays attention. You know, to stop this. We can't afford it. As a small business we can't afford $100,000. Somebody came and took it and nobody did anything about it. It's really hard for us," said Ehsan Aman, the owner of Cigarettes Cheaper.

And two days before that break-in, a coffee shop across the street was also hit.

"The city, the mayor. They don't do anything. Nobody pays attention. Nobody does anything. I don't know why. What do we do? We have no choice," said Aman.

Peña contacted the National Retail Federation and they confirmed that San Francisco is not the only city that is getting hit by crime.

According to their data, San Francisco and Oakland ranked second in the list of top areas affected by organized retail crime.

San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan represents the Richmond district. Her office sent the following statement on Tuesday:

"As a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Legislative Branch of City Government, bound by Charter Section 2.11, I cannot interfere with the daily operations of the Administration, so I must defer to the Mayor, and Police Chief Bill Scott to inform us of their strategies for crime prevention. However, as District 1 Supervisor and Chair of the Budget Committee, the safety and security of my constituents and neighbors is of utmost importance. The budget, being voted on today by the Board of Supervisors, includes an increase to the Police Department overall budget and added deployment to the Richmond with retired police officer ambassadors. I will continue to hold the police department accountable so they can deliver meaningful public safety with the public dollars that we have entrusted them."

Peña contacted Walgreens for comment and has not received a response.