Why is Walgreens really closing its stores in San Francisco? – Quartz



Walgreens Boots Alliance recently announced that it will be closing five stores in San Francisco due to what the company says is “organized retail theft.” Thefts in the Bay Area have reached five times the national average for Walgreens stores in recent months, the company said, a statistic that has made national headlines and sparked discussion about shoplifting in the city.

San Francisco city officials, reporters and criminal justice experts rebuffed the claim, raising questions about why Walgreens decided to close stores. San Francisco Mayor London Breed dismissed Walgreens’ claim, saying the real reason could be that stores aren’t generating enough revenue and the city is “saturated” with Walgreens outlets.

Walgreens said increasing investment in security measures to combat shoplifting has proven to be costly. “To help combat this retail theft, we have increased our investment in security measures in city stores to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment. This is primarily a result of our participation in the city’s 10B program to hire SFPD agents on leave to be in our stores, ”Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso said in an email to Quartz. (10-B is a program that allows businesses and events to hire San Francisco Police Department officers on leave to work overtime.)

In the statement, Caruso points out that the main concern is “retail organized crime” in which professional thieves steal goods for resale in digital markets. In July, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to re-establish a task force dedicated to tackling organized theft networks in retail.

City officials are skeptical

Part of the skepticism from San Francisco officials and the public stems from Walgreens’ filing with the SEC in 2019 which shows a plan to close at least 200 stores across the United States as part of a downsizing initiative costs. The drugstore chain lost $ 1.7 billion during the Covid-19 shutdowns and will likely see a slow recovery.

“So is Walgreens closing stores because of theft or because of a pre-existing business plan to cut costs and increase profits by consolidating stores and moving customers to purchasing by line ? San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted.

Additionally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Walgreens stores that were closing reported just seven shoplifting incidents this year, and the five stores that were scheduled to close had on average less than two theft incidents. display reported monthly. Many Walgreens items, including toothpaste, shampoo, and allergy medication, are stored under lock and key, requiring an employee to unlock the cabinet for the customer. The Chronicle also reported that despite media reports, reported shoplifting incidents are on the decline.

What is Proposition 47?

Some observers attribute the Walgreens closures to Proposition 47, a 2014 referendum designed to reduce some criminal crimes to misdemeanors. The measure has been hailed by criminal justice advocates as a way to reduce incarceration for smaller crimes or “survival crimes”, often perpetrated by people who are homeless or living in poverty. A common misconception, however, is that Proposition 47 prevents the arrest and prosecution of those who commit retail thefts. The referendum simply downgraded property theft by up to $ 950 as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Retailers tried unsuccessfully to reverse Proposition 47 in 2020.

Criminal justice researchers argue that a better approach to tackling retail theft is to diagnose the real issues. “There is a perception that Prop 47 is responsible for these thefts,” says Charis Kubrin, professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine. “There are so many other simultaneous things happening with Prop 47. We have a pandemic, we have a recession and increased poverty, inequality and unemployment. We have the mobility, the people moving in and out of San Francisco impacting traffic, and the people shopping at Walgreens. “

Criminal justice advocates are also concerned that this Walgreens-pushed narrative could spark efforts to recall progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and hamper criminal justice reform in the city. “What you have are people supporting policies or creating policies, not on the basis of what the data shows, but rather on the basis of fear of crime, moral panics and the politicization of these policies, ”Kubrin said.


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