San Francisco Stores Are Taking Extreme Security Measures To Fight Petty Theft

"It's San Francisco, bro."
A security guard outside of a store in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. California Governor Gavin Newsom said that "the level of organized retail theft we are seeing is simply unacceptable" as he boosted police presence in major retail sites. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

San Francisco stores have geared up with unprecedented security measures to try to deter shoplifters in the crime-ridden city.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other stores have installed extreme security devices and paid for private security guards to combat the rise in rampant theft over the last few years.

Supermarket chain Safeway installed exit gates at self-checkout lines in some of its Bay Area grocery stores, which require customers to scan their receipts before walking out the door. The exit gates are similar to those in mass transit systems.

“Recent changes were made at select Safeway stores in the Bay Area to maintain a safe and welcoming shopping experience for our customers and associates given the increasing amount of theft,” a Safeway spokesperson said in a statement Monday.

“Those updates include operational changes to the front end of the stores to deter shoplifting. Like other local businesses, we are working on ways to curtail escalating theft so we can ensure the wellbeing of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers. These long-planned security improvements were implemented with those goals in mind,” the Safeway spokesperson said.

A Walgreens in northern San Francisco locked its freezers with chains in response to shoplifters hitting the store 15 to 20 times a day, according to an employee.

A local ABC7 reporter witnessed multiple shoplifters at the Walgreens in just an hour.

“It’s San Francisco, bro,” one of the shoplifters told the outlet about why he did not pay.

A police sergeant in the area told the reporter the shoplifting is “getting worse” at that particular Walgreens.

Part of the reason for the shoplifting increase is Proposition 47, a 2014 voter-approved law that made the theft of merchandise under $950 in value a misdemeanor that is often not investigated.

Most Californians support changing Prop 47 to reinstate penalties for certain thefts, according to a 2022 poll.

In 2021, businesses in San Francisco’ Union Square hired private security to combat the “smash and grab” robberies that plagued the area.

Gump’s, a luxury home decor retailer, hired private security and capped how many shoppers could be in the downtown store at one time around Christmas, 2021.

“It is a cost that is not sustainable long-term for our business or for any business,” Marc Capalbo, Gump’s vice president of operations, said at the time. “The lack of leadership, the lack of accountability for those that are committing these crimes have got us to this situation.”

Electronics store B8ta closed for seven months in 2021 after a man took two laptops at gunpoint.

When B8ta reopened, the store spent $30,000 a month on around-the-clock security guards with bulletproof vests, more money than its entire payroll or rent.

Shoplifting spiked 20% in San Francisco between 2019 before the pandemic and 2022, according to the California Department of Justice.


A string of major retailers have recently fled their downtown San Francisco locations, where foot traffic has thinned. Mall company Westfield, AT&T, Nordstrom, Whole Foods, and two hotels have all shuttered locations in the city recently.

While overall crime in San Francisco is slightly down this year, certain types of violent crime are up, according to police data.

Murder is up 10% to 22 murders so far. Robberies are up 15% to 1,150 robberies so far. Car thefts are up 5% to 2,889 thefts.

Crime often accompanies the city’s stubborn homelessness and drug problems.

The drug crisis is still raging in San Francisco, although overdose deaths have dropped from their all-time high in 2020 during the thick of the pandemic. Homelessness has only gotten worse since before the pandemic. About 38,000 people are homeless in the Bay Area on a given night.

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