Theft and Robbery Have Become an American Epidemic

U.S. supermarket chain Whole Foods recently closed one of its branches in downtown San Francisco. According to the company, the frequent occurrence of crimes near the store, such as theft and robbery, caused public safety in the neighborhood to deteriorate, leaving the company with no other option but to temporarily shut down the branch in order to keep employees safe.

Walgreens, a large American pharmacy chain, also recently closed several stores in San Francisco. According to Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso, organized theft and robbery have seriously affected the normal operations of major retailers in San Francisco. “Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average. 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.”

The 2022 National Retail Safety Survey released by the National Retail Federation showed that organized retail crime across the U.S. increased by 26.5% from 2021. Total retail-related losses amounted to $94.5 billion in 2021, up from $90.8 billion in 2020. According to its statistics, the products stolen the most were clothing, electronics and health and beauty products. The report also highlighted how the five cities most affected by similar crimes in the past year were Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Houston and Miami, respectively.

The newest data released by the San Francisco Police Department revealed that between 2020 and 2022, property crimes in the city increased by 23%, with a surge in burglary-related cases, causing widespread concern among the public. U.S. media reported that Hamid Moghadam, CEO of San Francisco-based real estate company Prologis Inc., was recently robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight outside his home. After the event, he wrote to local and state lawmakers on the matter saying: “[I am] ask[ing] for your immediate attention and action around crime in our city … we [San Francisco citizens] have no sense of security. Protecting public safety should be the government’s top priority — that is the foundation of a successful city.”

According to the 2022 National Retail Safety Survey, 70.8% of respondents reported that in areas where felony thresholds increased, retail crimes also increased. And 54.6% of retailers said that the cash bail policy reform in the U.S., which eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, is the primary reason for the substantial increase in repeat offenses. Many respondents call for the lowering of the felony threshold at the federal level and increased sentences for crimes such as theft and robbery.

As Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted, the retail industry is the largest private sector employer in the United States, contributing $3.9 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product each year and providing a quarter of jobs in the United States, benefiting approximately 52 million Americans. “Retail theft is becoming a national crisis, hurting businesses in every state and the communities they serve.”

Dr. Cory Lowe, a senior research scientist with the American Loss Prevention Research Council, said the U.S. government needs to intensify its investigations and strengthen communication and coordination between law enforcement agencies in order to contain the outbreak of theft and robbery crimes in multiple cities.

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