'We are better than this': Mayor Breed, SFPD announce new strategy against organized retail theft

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Mayor Breed, SFPD announce new organized retail theft strategy
San Francisco Mayor London Breed and SFPD have announced a new strategy in combating organized retail theft in the city.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When it comes to crime and rampant retail theft, Mayor London Breed said not to mistake San Francisco's kindness for weakness.

"We are better than this," said Mayor Breed, who continued, "there has to be consequences because we can't continue to allow what we see as lawlessness continue to dominate our City."

RELATED: San Francisco repeat offenders responsible for retail theft, police say

Mayor Breed and San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott spoke directly to videos that went viral over the summer - a group running off with designer handbags from Neiman Marcus in Union Square, and a man, who's since been arrested, shoplifting a garbage bag full of items from a Walgreens in Hayes Valley.

"People then start fearing crime, even if they haven't been victimized," said Chief Scott.

VIDEO: Stream of handbag thieves sprint out of San Francisco Neiman Marcus

Police are investigating a case of shoplifting at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco's Union Square, where a group of suspects bolted out the store with designer bags in hand before jumping into waiting cars.

Under the new organized retail theft initiative:

  • SFPD expanded their retail crime unit from two to six full time investigators
  • the City's ambassador program will expand from 8 to 25 employees (retired SFPD officers) and extend beyond Union Square
  • when filing a report online, there will be an opportunity to include a suspect description

Chief Scott says theft is actually under-reported in San Francisco, so police are also improving reporting and response efforts, which he expects will make theft data increase in the coming years.

"In the meantime, a lot of it is the eye test. If you are out shopping and doing what you do in the city, and you're seeing these things occur, we want you to see less of it, we don't want you to see it all!"

VIDEO: Thief steals garbage bag full of items from SF Walgreens with security filming in plain sight

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

Only on ABC7 News, surveillance video shows helpless store employees and a customer watch three thieves steal $10,000 worth of merchandise in just 20 seconds. One employee at the Margaret O'Leary store can be hard yelling "stop it," only to have a thief cuss at her and continue with the grab-and-go theft.

As a result...

"We're on pins and needles all the time," said Margaret O'Leary, who explained that she's been forced to display less inventory. "It looks like I'm going out of business, but this is what I have to do."

O'Leary says in 20 years, her namesake store on Fillmore Street has never been robbed. Until this year, when she's been hit three times.

"My employees are scared, some of them have actually quit."

RELATED: SF crime report says fewer robberies in 2021 than previous years, gun violence on the rise

O'Leary has 12 stores across the U.S. and says only one store gets robbed. "Not in Mill Valley, not in Berkeley, not in Palo Alto, just Fillmore Street."

She says SFPD has never made an arrest in any of the store's thefts and says the criminals targeting her store and others on Fillmore Street need to be punished. "There has to be prosecution, there has to be."

Meanwhile, O'Leary has introduced a slew of new anti-theft measures at the store. The door is locked and only opened for knocking customers, only a few items are placed on the counters so there's less to grab, the hangars are backwards so it's harder to pull items off the racks, and expensive leather goods are placed up high and in the back of the store. Also, every employee now carries a panic button.

O'Leary says if the thefts continue, she'll be forced to close her store on Fillmore Street.