by UnHerd
Wednesday, 16
June 2021
Chart
15:26

Who’d have thought? Decriminalising crime has consequences

In San Francisco, out of control shoplifting is driving chains out of the city
by UnHerd
Walgreens has already closed seventeen of its San Francisco branches due to out-of-control shoplifting

It isn’t exactly the crime of the century, but nevertheless it’s making headlines around the world.

You can see the footage here and here, but this is the gist: a man enters a Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco, stuffs a black plastic bag full of items from the shelves, and then cycles off.

There are witnesses, including a security guard. They film the incident and the guard tries to grab the bag, but the thief gets away with it.

Judging from the footage, there’s no violence, not even an angry word. But that’s what makes the whole thing so shocking: the nonchalance of all involved. It’s as if everyone present knows that there’s not much that can be done about it.   

And they’re basically right about that. The following chart tweeted out by Michael Shellenberger shows, for San Francisco, the percentage of shoplifting cases that end in arrest. 

As can be seen, arrest rates plummeted from about 60% in 2014 to about 40% five years later. Over the last two years, they’ve collapsed to less than 20%. 

Shellenberger is careful to state that correlation does not equal causation. However, he also points out that 2014 was the year that California passed Proposition 47 which downgraded a series of nonviolent offences from felonies to misdemeanours. Those offences included the personal use of most illegal drugs and the shoplifting of goods worth up to $950. Thus it has become easier both to indulge one’s addiction and to fund it through stealing. 

Of course, it’s not a complete free-for-all. Most residents of the city still pay for their shopping. But if, on the other hand, you’re homeless and jobless then materially there’s not much to lose. 

Then again, if you’re a law-abiding citizen who depends on the availability of local shops then there’s a great deal to lose. Pharmacies are a particular point of vulnerability. The items they provide are vital to the infirm, but also attract shoplifters because they’re non-perishable and comparatively valuable. At some point, retailers have to decide whether it’s worth the aggravation. Walgreens has already closed seventeen of its San Francisco branches due to out-of-control shoplifting. 

Ultimately, people get what they vote for. California voted 60% to 40% for Proposition 47. In San Francisco county the split was even more decisive: 80% to 20%. 

Just how bad do things have to get before voters change their minds?

Join the discussion


  • A friend who lives in Seattle has also been to SF and Portland very recently. She says it is all a hot mess.

  • Those that can simply move to an area with lower crime – usually a red state. Then they start demanding and voting for the same kinds of policies that have made such a mess of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland etc. They never learn – just move their destructiveness.

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