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Walgreens closing 5 San Francisco stores due to 'organized retail crime' (sfgate.com)
97 points by andyxor 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

Discussion from a few months ago when Target reduced SF store hours due to retail theft: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27718204

Turns out defunding the police and not enforcing laws has consequences.

San Francisco never defunded the police. (IIRC, voters passed a measure eliminating a mininum funding mandate, but the actual budget has increased.)

The SFPD may choose not to enforce laws, but I don't think anyone outside of SFPD directed that, it's just organized nonfeasance as leadership political protest.

> organized nonfeasance as leadership political protest

Nope, this is fake news. You should learn more about your DA Chesa Boudin. He rarely brings cases to trial, fired a bunch of prosecutors and 30 others have left, and removed cash bail which puts repeat offenders right back on the street after arrest.

The police don't want to arrest criminals and fill out paperwork if the people they pick up aren't going to be held. That's a knock on effect of what you're describing.

I don't want to fill out TPF reports either but if that's a requirement of my job, shouldn't I do it?

Sure. And objectively the cops should keep arresting these people. Unfortunately people aren't robots, and morale is a thing.

How often do we say the same thing about people that are poor and have no other options but turning to a life of crime? The police are paid. The retail gangs might not have any employment opportunities. But, how often does someone say "people aren't robots and morale is a thing" about them and mean that crushing poverty leads them to make poor but understandable choices.

It's just a thought experiment and something to consider.

What if your boss didn't want you to fill out TPF reports? Would you do it then?

SFPD was facing a shortage of new recruits this summer: https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2021/06/24/san-francisco-g...

The political and social climate in SF has led to a situation where the number of officers on the street can shrink even if the budget stays flat or grows.

Applicants, not recruits. Apples and oranges. Urban PDs have been moaning about being understaffed while kneecapping actually graduating more because they are gorging on overtime. Same with public works. Remember the HN outrage with the Muni worker making $400K? They have all their cake and eat it too.

An 800K San Franciscans have been clammering for community policing for decades but it never happens. Because PDs don’t want that.

This has been the state forever: http://sfappeal.com/2012/04/understaffed-sfpd-is-nonetheless...

SF went from $668 million in 19/20 to $661 million in 20/21 for the SFPD, mainly due to police not being required as much at SFO.

If the police can't stop crime and enforce the laws of 47 square miles and 874,961 residents for the princely sum of $755 per person/year or $14 million per square mile/year what exactly are people paying for? Like if I told you that you pay $62/mo for a police subscription and this was the service you were going to get for it, would you still subscribe to it? Probably not.

It's a protection racket. Lower the police budget even in a non-meaningful way just a little and they hold the city to ransom. Just scrap it and start again from scratch, perhaps trying Peelian principles instead of relying on the corrupted outgrowth of slave hunter patrols.

Police aren't good for much if you don't have a competent prosecutor who sees fit to prosecute criminals. Catch-and-release policing is a waste of everybody's time. And when the police misbehave, who is it that frequently neglects to prosecute them? The prosecutors, again. Who elects shitty prosecutors? Who elects shitty sheriffs? Who elect city councils and mayors who nominate shitty police chiefs?

All fingers point back to the electorate.

> Catch-and-release policing is a waste of everybody's time.

No, it's not. Putting away repeat offenders requires to know who are they. It helps victims to have a report they can use for insurance claims, etc.

You can only confirm they've offended after examining the evidence, which the DA refuses to do. Arrest isn't proof.

This has nothing to do with policing and everything to do with local prosecutors, judges, and city leadership.

A lot of SF judges have been elected on a platform of being less harsh on defendants, and stricter with prosecutors. I don't know this particular judge's politics, but one SF judge recently opened up in open court on the incompetence of District Attorney Boudin's office that resulted in it dropping a criminal case: https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/S-F-judge-blasts-DA-C...

Boudin and his defenders have been trying to spin the rebuke (including the apology, which was actually to the trial attorney, not Boudin), but the comments are perfectly consistent with this critique of Boudin's office from earlier this year: https://www.marinatimes.com/why-colleagues-say-district-atto...

Boudin famously fired at least 7 veteran prosecutors immediately after taking office. (https://www.kqed.org/news/11795676/why-did-san-franciscos-ne...) I'm not sure how many more prosecutors were fired or left after that, but as far as I can tell 7 is about half of the total number of prosecutors. And he seems to have replaced them with public defenders and fresh law graduates who have no experience prosecuting cases. (Boudin himself had never prosecuted a case.)

Boudin doesn't deserve all the blame. His predecessor, Gascon, made several changes that already made the San Francisco District Attorney's Office one of the most lenient in the country. People compare Boudin to the reformist D.A. in Philadelphia, but the better comparison is Gascon; Boudin took things to a whole new level, far beyond the reforms in Philadelphia or in the national conversation.

I've always been on board with Boudin's push for more lenient sentencing. But that's just a small part of his agenda, much of which simply translates as no sentencing. And because of general incompetence he's flubbing everything, resulting in him becoming defensive, spinning and lying about cases (e.g. most recently--last couple weeks--a controversy about disparate treatment of some pedestrian death cases that resulted in his firing the office's victims' advocate) that really should have seen both better attention by his office and, mistakes notwithstanding, a better defense in the media.

I thought it had more to do with the fact that <$950 shoplifting is considered a misdemeanor, and basically not worth the police's time to enforce it... because the prosecutor doesn't prosecute.

Burning it down to the ground, and rebuilding will of course create pretty much the same thing, and probably worse.

Getting closer to being a capitalist utopia. No retail stores, no theft. All items have to be ordered online, rule by code. It would be interesting to know the stores financial statements to see if this was just an excuse to get rid of the retail footprint due to sales & property tax in SF. The current building demand with low interest rates and COVID re-opening should more than compensate the remodeling costs.

People flagrantly disregarding property rights is a "capitalist utopia"?

It is assumed. Property rights require enforcement. Changing the enforcement from a public taxed expense to a private one is capitalistic rather than socialistic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqKz1ibLYgk

I think you're confusing capitalism for anarcho-capitalism or something like that. I think most self described "capitalists" support the existence of a government that, at the very least, enforces property rights and resolves contract disputes. 'Capitalism' is not synonymous with 'no government.'

Nearly all libertarians I've ever met will readily admit that some form of government existing is desirable. Their disputes with socialists are all in shades of gray. In internet discussions on platforms that amplify extremism (reddit, etc), it may seem like the the two camps are "no government" anarcho-libertarians vs "all the government" totalitarian-communists, but in my experience either of these extreme positions are so rare they're hardly worth considering at all.

Surprised how far out those stores are - only the 300 Gough St one is really close to the Tenderloin.

You want to be where the police aren't. A bank near me gets robbed a few times a year because the neighborhood is safe and isolated enough that the city mostly avoids stationing officers nearby.

How do they know that, are they exit polling the robbers?

The organized retail theft gangs have get-away cars (often nice ones.) They can drive to wherever the pickings are good.

Walgreens is losing money and shutting down hundreds of stores nation wide.

> During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

From the article. This isn’t normal

Throwaway, but I can assure you as an SF resident, most of us are more than happy to see Walgreens go.

They pay and treat their employees terribly along with pushing junk food and other garbage to people just trying to fill a prescription.

We are excited for quality, owner operated pharmacies to return and replace them. Just like they served us before Walgreens came in and muscled them all out of business.

It’s almost as if not looking out for your community results in that community not looking out for you.

>We are excited for quality, owner operated pharmacies to return and replace them. Just like they served us before Walgreens came in and muscled them all out of business.

What makes you think that the owner operated pharmacies won't be targeted by shoplifters? Are a significant chunk of the shoplifters doing it for ideological reasons?

>It’s almost as if not looking out for your community results in that community not looking out for you.

Sounds like victim blaming to me. The whole point of having laws and law enforcement is to have an official way to pay your dues to the community and get protection in return, rather than having to pay for "protection" from the community itself.

> What makes you think that the owner operated pharmacies won't be targeted by shoplifters?

Footage from the LA Riots.

You mean the one where korean store owners had to defend their businesses by shooting from the rooftops? That seems like an obvious case of owner operated businesses were still targeted.


But they don't have a corporate policy against self-defense.

Of course people keep escalating shoplifting if it's known policy not to engage.

Sounds less like "the community [...] looking out for you" and more you using violence to protect your property.

As opposed to the people trespassing into "my" store and physically removing "my" property?

(I'm not a shop owner)

That was 30 years ago in another city. The rioters are 50 years old now.

I’m also a SF resident and the above comment does not represent the vast majority of people here. A good example is Ahsha Safai’s comment (the supervisor for district 11):

“I am completely devastated by this news - this Walgreens is less than a mile from seven schools and has been a staple for seniors, families and children for decades. This closure will significantly impact this community.”


That comment is about the value of a store like Walgreens. It's not praise of the Walgreens brand.

It’s about one of the specific stores in TFA.

That's all nice to say when you are not one of the Walgreens employees who may lose a job as a result of the closures, right?

Owner-operated pharmacies have been out of business for decades. I'm sure you yearn for the days of Blockbuster video or, better still, your neighborhood video stores. No Netflix for you, right?

> Owner-operated pharmacies have been out of business for decades.

Check out anywhere in the US more than 100 miles from an Ocean

There are fewer than 20k such pharmacies, for 3k counties in the US. So fewer than 7 per county. It's safe to say they are gone for good.

Also, consider the fact that at least 40% of the population lives within 100 miles of a coast, perhaps more.


I feel this is a naive assessment.

Walgreens is not 'pushing' anything on anyone - people make choices to buy Doritos.

More importantly -> they're going there for the Doritos as much as anything else.

Walgreens has incredible economies of scale and operational expertise. They know what people want, they know how to keep the shelves stocked efficiently, which is not exactly novel, but it's hard for mom and pop shops to do.

If SF residents truly wanted 'independent pharmacies' for prescriptions, they would have been using them already.

As far as 'employee treatment' - maybe there is something there, but I'm doubtful if it rises to the threshold that we'd want them closed.

'The Problem' is entirely San Francisco's insane attitudes towards crime.

And finally, most poignantly, those criminals will steal from the 'locally owned stores' just as well, and they won't have 500 other locations to absorb the losses.

This is an SF civic problem.

Get SF to act rationally - and then - maybe it's possible to have a discussion about 'locally owned' shops etc..

You think they'll stop at Walgreens? Lol. I suspect this is only the beginning. You should understand that the political incumbents don't care because there is nothing stopping them or holding them accountable. That way of thinking will guarantee they stay in power, so they'll continue their experiments.

I've been to multiple Walgreens and none of them have pushed junk food on anyone. In fact, the most direct path from the entrance to the pharmacy hasn't even contained the food. That's always been on the opposite side of the store.

Mine has a tower of Pringles, minimum.

I'd think Amazon is a big influence too. Traditionally these pharmacies sell stuff a huge markups, its amazing how much cheaper OTC medicines and lotions are online. These big pharmacy chains are on borrowed time even without the shoplifting.

NYC is similar https://nypost.com/2021/10/02/nyc-man-leads-record-shatterin...

> Rodriguez is finally in jail, but he rode the city’s revolving door of justice to allegedly rip off Walgreens 37 times this year. He was particularly partial to the drug store at 91-08 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, which he hit 23 times, police said.

The NY Post has an editorial incentive to hype up cases like this. Having lived in the city my entire life: I've never heard anything remotely similar to this. It's a bit like the guy who keeps trying to steal subway trains[1]: you can write a great breathless article about him, but there's still only one of him.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darius_McCollum

>you can write a great breathless article about him, but there's still only one of him.

Right, but even if 46 arrests in a year isn't representative of the median shoplifter, it's still an appalling example. Why is the justice system so ineffective that a shoplifter is allowed to be arrested 46 times in a year? You'd think by the 4th or 5th one he'd be denied bail.

> You'd think by the 4th or 5th one he'd be denied bail.

Last year NYC passed a bail reform law which removed bail as an option for a whole list of crimes.

You can shoplift all day everyday now, and you will be back on the street without bail.

> You can shoplift all day everyday now, and you will be back on the street in a few hours without bail.

Again, silence from the civil libertarians on using bail as a form of infinite detention. But more to the point: the bail reform doesn't apply here, since he's a previous offender. There's nothing (other than court capacity) stopping a judge from issuing a bail for him.

> You'd think by the 4th or 5th one he'd be denied bail.

I don't think the article says, but I suspect that he probably hasn't had a bail hearing related to these arrests this year. The court system is badly backlogged, and the alternative would be indefinite detention (here is where I'd expect the civil libertarians to come marching in, but there's always curious silence when it's someone like this).

> here is where I'd expect the civil libertarians to come marching in, but there's always curious silence when it's someone like this

Have you considered mentioning age of consent?

Maybe this Rodriguez is the single guy in the city who decided to make crime a career. Or maybe he's the single guy the city permitted to get away with it for so long. No systemic problems, just one particular guy who is singled out for exceptionally tolerant treatment by the system.. for some reason.

Probably not though. I bet there are dozens if not hundreds more like him.

> I bet there are dozens if not hundreds more like him.

To be clear: betting like this is baseless speculation. I'm telling you from lived experience that it just isn't that common here, especially when you factor in how dense and populous NYC is compared to SF.

And it's probably not the case that he's "singled out" in any way (other than for reporting by the NYP). He's the "spiders Georg"[1] of shoplifting. There's always one!

[1]: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/spiders-georg

> To be clear: betting like this is baseless speculation.

It is speculation, but it is not baseless. I base my speculation on a foundation of N=1, which may not be very firm but is not baseless.

Just now though, I clicked through to that nypost article and found this:

> There are 77 other thieves right now walking the streets of New York with rap sheets of 20 or more shoplifting charges, NYPD sources say.

77 is a bit more than 6 dozen, so I feel vindicated. My speculation was accurate.

I think I'd feel comfortably vindicated with a number about an order of magnitude higher :-)

Seriously: NYC is big. 77 kleptomaniacs in a city of 8.4 million people? Not bad! Per capita, we're one of the safest (and lowest-crime) cities in the country[1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_b...

It's not the number of kleptos that is the matter of concern. What concerns me is the police/prosecutors/courts allowing these kleptos to run free. That it has happened 77 times shows that it wasn't just one guy somehow slipping through the system as a fluke. The kleptos are mere bellwethers for the systemic sickness in law enforcement.

I wonder if there is some Marxist website somewhere celebrating this.

These huge businesses like Walmart, Walgreens and Starbucks target and study successful mom and pop businesses and then move in ruthlessly. In Portland I've seen so many great local businesses destroyed because they couldn't compete with the large chains. And, if that eventually doesn't work out for the chain, they close up shop.

Amazon and Walmart have destroyed small mom and pop grocery stores across the country.

I bet these retail gangs wouldn't go after a mom and pop shop of any kind. The owner would probably fight them with their bare hands. That's why they are going after Walgreens.

In some weird way, this feels like capitalism, actually. It's just a hidden facet we don't see often.

> I bet these retail gangs wouldn't go after a mom and pop shop of any kind. The owner would probably fight them with their bare hands. That's why they are going after Walgreens.

That's a big assumption...If elderly Asian people are being attacked on the streets, I don't think their moral code extends to mom and pop shops, even if they're willing to throw down, unless they bring out guns.

Wait, what? You think it's retail gangs committing the anti-Asian violence? Based on what?

In a few years we will be hearing about all the food deserts in San Francisco and how they stem from racism and white supremacy...

It's pretty unlikely that Walgreens is included in the USDA's definition of a food desert. I believe the most nutritious things available for sale there are dry cereal and maybe bananas.

Depends on the Walgreens location. Some have effectively a little grocer inside (gallons of milk, some fruits and vegetables, pasta, bread, etc.).

I'm sure it varies by area, but in NYC I've never seen vegetables in a Walgreens (or DR, or Rite-Aid, &c.). They sometimes have milk and eggs, but it's usually the smaller packages (half a gallon or less / half a dozen respectively) and the dry goods that aren't cereal tend to be smaller or "instant" varieties (pouched rice and pasta is what I've seen). I think you'd struggle to healthfully feed an individual with just a Walgreens, much less a family.

Historic racism -> Intergenerational poverty -> Crime -> Area divestment -> Food desert.

Bombarded with suffocating propaganda telling them that society considers them subhuman and they will never succeed on their own merits and their only option is to rely on the benevolence and generosity of the brave and wonderful allies who have taken pity on them. -> Demoralization and withdrawal from constructive participation in society. -> Crime, poverty. -> Poor disadvantaged people stay dependent, on the bottom. -> Self proclaimed allies pushing these policies remain on top and continue to allegedly be the only ones who will fix the problems.

I'm beginning to prefer that theory. Explains some motives a little better.

It's both. Propaganda can't tell you why you're poor if you're not poor.

Lots of things play into the situation. I don't think historic racism is the only factor, it's certainly not a useful point of intervention, but it is a factor. It's important we remember that when we're presented with options for intervention so we can approach them with a degree of empathy we otherwise would not afford them.

As I said I disagree. I think that's a relatively factor that is not nearly so important as the common discourse would lead you to believe. When you look at other peoples who have historically suffered racism, when you look at those in generational poverty, it just seems like there are too many counter examples for it to be an overwhelming factor.

I've never seen strong evidence or really good theories that fit the facts about this which aren't just pages of handwaving and waffling and speculation (or worse, veiled threats that you are a racist if you disagree with the theory).

What I think is that in fact it is a great tool for use by some unscrupulous people because it means they never have to actually be held to account for any of their policies or legislation or agenda. None of it is measurable. Somehow people have us convinced that they and only they are able to fix racism or improve the lot of disadvantaged minorities... without ever having to show a single scrap of evidence or results. Anything that goes wrong for them can be blamed on others who are racist, and any questioning of their methods or policies makes you a racist. They actually have an extremely strong incentive to never fix these problems at all.

That's why I prefer my theory. It fits reality and explains motives a lot better in my opinion.

Hopefully everyone here is grown up enough that I don't need to add the usual wall of disclaimers (racism existed and exists and people suffer from it, my theory is about social scale effects and not any person's individual experience, etc.).

I don't disagree with a lot of what you said, but I do disagree with historic racism not playing a significant part. Being born into poverty, as all newly freed slaves were, means you're very likely to stay in poverty. A significant degree of modern Black poverty can be attributed to the continuation of the poverty they were born into.

What I'm saying is: A large portion of modern Black poverty comes from historic racism and slavery. There are people alive today that couldn't use the same fountains as the white kids when they were younger. Poor people commit more crime.

What I'm not saying: People can't rise out of poverty (I managed it, I think others can to). People shouldn't be accountable for their actions (Moral hazard is a thing). Racism is the dominant factor in crime (Poverty and culture are more the issue now, but those have roots in a history that was not long ago).

> Propaganda can't tell you why you're poor if you're not poor.

Not true. You'd be surprised how many kids in comfortable middle class families think they are poor because they aren't living the luxury jetset lifestyle they see promoted by influencers on instagram.

That's a fair point.

It’s kinda weird that crime slumped as poverty skyrocketed in the 2008 recession. You would think crime would be higher in 2008 and 2009 than 2007 but instead it plummeted

That's fascinating. I grew up in an area - Appalachia, specifically an area among the poorest regions east of the Mississippi - with entrenched forever poverty, and vast underinvestment in pretty much every way you could name. It never occurred to anyone to put together organized retail crime gangs and endlessly plunder local stores until they were all forced to close.

What other excuses do you have?

> It never occurred to anyone to put together organized retail crime gangs and endlessly plunder local stores until they were all forced to close.

I'm not particularly invested in defending SF, but comparing shoplifting in a dense urban center to one of the least densely populated regions of the Eastern US doesn't make a ton of sense. It occurs to me that Appalachia has plenty of entrenched and even organized crime (moonshining being the historical one that comes to mind), but most of it doesn't involve hitting up the store you live a block from.

>I'm not particularly invested in defending SF

It's depressing that we need prefaces like this.

It was a little clumsy of me, but I was trying to hedge between the normal reactionary critiques of SF and something more constructive. NYC has plenty of problems, some of which are a lot worse than SF's, but we don't have anything really resembling this.

Why? Probably a lot of reasons. But it certainly doesn't hurt that we have a (mostly court-backed) housing mandate, and the country's largest youth employment program[1].

[1]: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dycd/services/jobs-internships/abo...

There's tons of factors that go into crime, culture is one of them, disenfranchisement is another. None of them cause all cases, that doesn't mean some of them don't cause some cases.

Historic racism -> Intergenerational poverty -> chaos -> Quantum mechanics -> Hawking radiation -> Black hole

Now we are all dead. Thanks, racism.


It's not his most artful turn of phrase, but if you read the context of the remarks, I think Safai is saying "we can't continue to let them close" as in "we can't continue to allow these conditions which are forcing them to close," not as in "government should mandate that they stay open."

Maybe, but government has a history of forcing bad things on business.

I sure hope you are right. The previous quote only mentions the "damage this will have on their community" so the focus seemed to be on the community's need here

> During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

I wonder how they arrived at this number of 46x.

46x the chain average of single minutes spent reviewing security staff resumes?

46x the chain average of security camera photos sent to LEOs?

46x the average number of bic lighters placed further back? No, up more? No, up and back higher, like where you can't reach? No, they can really jump that high, so up higher?

I don't get it. Are you making a joke that's gone over my head?

> our investments in security measures in stores

Clearly this refers to their dollar expenditure on security measures, however that had been accounted.

Most Walgreens don’t have dedicated security guards. If these stores had guards working all operating hours (2-3 shifts per day, every day) and some stores might have employed multiple security guards, the multiple is there.

I want to add to your comment, that the problem with Walgreens security in SF is well known, far before the issues with the changes in the law took front and center. I actually had a conversation with a friend about how bad their security was back in 2007. The issue is purely one of store layout and design. They could easily fix that and solve most of the problem.

I feel like criminals are also abundantly aware at this point they won't face prosecution from SF's DA, so feel agency to commit "minor" crimes like this with impunity. But most of the SF stores do have a very old-school layout.

One way to solve the problem, is to put a counter in front of all the merchandise, make everyone use a shopping cart in the app as they walk around the store, allowing you to use your camera to snap images of products you want, or choose from a list, which the app checks and converts to real time inventory, and adds to your cart as needed. Then, check out and pay for it either online or at the counter, and pick up your items. Problem solved.

How would layout stop ransacking that goes intentionally unprosecuted? Looting example in Alameda that seems unrelated to store design: https://youtube.com/watch?v=9ICQDYeAPDE

On this site, people like to look for technical solutions to social problems. "Law enforcement and the courts aren't doing their jobs? No problem, just rearrange the shelves in your shops..."

36x 0.5 cents is 18 dollars. So they started spending on security and it made them unprofitable perhaps. Retail runs on razor thin margins, so there may be some substance to this 36x number.

I don't believe the trope that retail makes razor thin margins. Considering most major retailers including Walgreens make profit hand over fist

It's not a 'trope'. It's a fact. Major retailers, including Walgreens have net profit margins in single-digit percentage points (it was 4.1% this quarter). The reason they make large profits is that they do large amounts of business (their revenues were 28 billion this quarter).

> 36x 0.5 cents is 18 dollars.

That would be 18 cents.

Lol, true. 36x0.5 dollars is what I meant :)

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