Gotham City, known for its rampant crime and corruption, infamously becomes taken over by super-villains and organized crime empires within the Batman franchise, usually because local government officials and law enforcement were too inept or corrupt to do anything meaningful about the criminals taking over.
San Francisco, California, has been looking a lot like Gotham City lately as a recent surge in both petty crimes like shoplifting and organized retail crime in San Francisco has left business owners and residents troubled and even wanting to leave the city altogether, KRON-TV reported. This time, however, there won’t be a Batman to swoop in and save the residents of San Francisco.
The rate of larceny has increased 22% this year according to data from the San Francisco Police Department. The city also saw a 52% increase in burglary, around a 40% increase in arson and a nearly 37% uptick in vehicle thefts, statistical comparisons to 2019 from the San Francisco Police Department show.
— ABC7 News (@abc7newsbayarea) July 2, 2021
An annual poll from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce released in June found that 80% of residents believed crime has worsened in recent years and 76% want more police in high-crime neighborhoods. Additionally, 40% of residents said they plan to move out of the city in the next few years.
Ahsha Safai, a member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors, said retail crime in particular was “out of control” during a hearing in May. He added that residents “are scared to go into these stores” and local officials simply can’t “throw up our hands and say this is OK.” (RELATED: ‘There Are No Consequences’: California Grocery Stores Push For Tougher Crime Laws, Citing Safety Concerns)
One man was caught on camera stealing a bag full of items in June from a local Walgreens as two people and a security guard stood by. Jason Cunningham, a regional vice president for the retail company, said last month the cost of business and shoplifting has led Walgreens to shut down 17 locations in San Francisco in the last five years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
In a related incident Monday night, a group of people robbed a Neiman Marcus store in what may have been an instance of organized retail crime. The perpetrators smashed display cases and stole items before fleeing the scene, video footage shows.
— KTVU (@KTVU) July 6, 2021
It may be no coincidence, then, that permissive policies passed by local Democrats in recent years turned the city into a Gothamesque hub for retail crime.
In 2014, voters approved a ballot measure known as Proposition 47 which reclassified nonviolent theft as a misdemeanor as long as the total value of goods stolen is less than $950. The move was backed by progressives but several retail executives, police officers and local officials have pointed to Prop 47 as an incentive for criminals.
The city’s Democratic District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who took office in January 2020, has similarly made decreasing penalties for nonviolent offenders a core part of his agenda. He has also worked to ban cash bail, reduce prison sentences and even said his office would not prosecute public urination in a city where improper waste disposal has been an issue for years.
Boudin said in February 2020 that his office would no longer prosecute contraband charges that originated from minor traffic infractions. He also promised to stop using gang affiliation status in sentencing. He suggested, as other progressives have, that tougher crime laws are both exploitative and racist.
“Pretextual stops and sentencing enhancements based on who you know rather than what you did are relics of the tough-on-crime era that failed to make us safer,” Boudin said at the time. “Instead, they led to mass incarceration, targeted innocent black and brown drivers, and increased recidivism. They stand in the way of fairness and justice.”
Kate Chatfield, a senior official at the District Attorney’s office, linked fear of a crime surge to racism and white supremacy in a tweet responding to a San Francisco resident who expressed concerns on Twitter that the city is becoming less safe.
In recent years, a progressive pushback against tough-on-crime prosecutors and lawmakers has been taking place in cities across the country. Congressional Democrats including members of “the Squad” have also helped mainstream opposition to tough-on-crime laws and police departments, which progressives often point to as examples of “systemic racism.”
California Retailers Association president Rachel Michelin told the Daily Caller that the issue of retail crime “is not a new one” and industry groups have been working with law enforcement and governments to deal with offenders, especially organized crime rings that “prey on retailers, both large and small.”
Michelin said laws like Prop 47 “probably add to” an increase in crime and noted there have been issues working with local law enforcement and elected officials because the legal environment has not deterred either larceny or organized retail crime.
“We need to make sure that when these folks go into a city, they know that if they’re caught, they’re going to be prosecuted and they’re going to be held accountable for their crimes,” she said. “And that’s where we’re running into some of the problems.”
Michelin also told the Caller that Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been “very supportive” of industry efforts and his latest budget allocates $5.7 million toward an organized retail crime task force. But she stressed the need for local leadership in order to address rising crime rates in the long-term.
“The question is whether there is leadership — particularly at the local level — in San Francisco to make that happen,” she said. “Unless we have everyone on the same page — particularly law enforcement, the District Attorney and elected officials — it’s going to continue to fester.”