San Francisco’s brazen crime, open drug use and trashed streets have made even the most progressive of the city’s famed liberal residents demand a return to law and order as they seek to recall the woke district attorney.
News of attacks on Asian American seniors, burglarized restaurants, and boarded-up storefronts in the city’s once-vibrant downtown greet the citizens of the City by the Bay on a near-daily basis.
And that was before a series of headline-grabbing crime stories in which mobs of looters smashed windows and grabbed luxury purses in the downtown Union Square shopping district.
‘There´s a widespread sense that things are on the wrong track in San Francisco,’ said Patrick Wolff, 53, a retired professional chess player from the Boston area who has lived in the city since 2005.
In a sign of civic frustration, San Franciscans will vote next June on whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender elected in 2019 who critics say is too lenient on crime.
A suspect was seen running away with an armful of merchandise after stealing from a Luis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square in November
Footage from the aftermath shows the glass door was shattered in the incident, and the shelves were completely empty
Many in the liberal City by the Bay blame woke District Attorney Chesa Boudin for the rise in crime. He is now facing a recall election
The move comes as residents and visitors scurry past scenes of lawlessness and squalor.
Daytime shootings in the touristy Haight-Ashbury has only exacerbated a general feeling of vulnerability.
Just steps from the Opera House and Symphony Hall, drug dealers carry translucent bags filled with crystal-like rocks or stand outside the public library’s main branch, flashing wads of cash while peddling heroin and methamphetamine.
Boudin’s office has only been charging people of theft in 46 percent of all cases since taking office. In comparison, his predecessor George Gascon made such charges in 62 percent of all cases in 2018 and 2019, according to city data.
Boudin has an even lower rate in petty crime and has only made charges in 35 percent of all cases, compared to Gascon’s 58 percent.
Boudin has also convicted far less people of both crimes than Gascon, only convicting thieves in 79 percent of thefts and 62 percent of petty thefts. Gascon has an 82 percent conviction rate for theft and a 77 percent conviction rate for petty theft.
Overall, Boudin has charged people with crimes in 48 percent of all reported cases, while Gascon has a charging rate of 54 percent.
Boudin’s supporters, though, say there’s no crime surge, and that corporate wage theft is a more pressing issue than cases like that of a San Francisco woman finally arrested after stealing more than $40,000 in goods from a Target during more than 120 visits. She was released by a judge and arrested again on suspicion of shoplifting after she failed to show up to get her court-ordered ankle monitor.
‘Where´s the progress? If you say you´re progressive, let´s get the homeless off the street, and let´s get them mental health care,’ said Brian Cassanego, a San Francisco native who owns the lounge where Foster works. He moved to wine country five months ago, tired of seeing dealers sell drugs with impunity and worrying about his wife being alone outside at night.
The day before he moved, Cassanego stepped out to walk his dogs and saw a man who ‘looked like a zombie,’ with his pants down to his knees and bleeding from where a syringe was stuck on his hip. A woman cried out nearby in shock.
‘I went upstairs, and I told my wife, “We´re leaving now! This city is done!” he said.
Police were parked outside a Fendi store in San Francisco amid a rise in slash and grab thefts
A police officer stood at the site of a shooting in San Francisco in early November, when two people were shot in broad daylight in the city’s Haught-Ashbury neighborhood, an area that has become overrun with young homeless people
National pharmacy chain Walgreens has closed 17 of its 70 San Francisco locations in the past two years, citing shelf raiders who have swiped every kind of product not behind lock and key. The retailer claims it needs to shutter five additional stores in the city because the soft laws on shoplifting have led to rampant theft.
Walgreens insists that San Francisco’s rampant crime is to blame, revealing it spends 46 times as much on security at its city stores, which face five times as many shoplifting incidents compared with those elsewhere in the country
California’s Proposition 47 – lighter sentences for thieves
Proposition 47 was passed by California voters on November 5, 2014.
It made some ‘non-violent’ property crimes, where the value of the stolen goods does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors.
It also made some ‘simple’ drug possession offenses into misdemeanors, and allows past convictions for these charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor by a court.
Under California law, though, if two or more person’s conspire to ‘cheat and defraud any person or any property, by any means which are in themselves criminal’ they can face no more than one year in county prison, a fine of $10,000 or a combination of the two.
Reports of larceny theft – shoplifting from a person or business – are up nearly 17 percent to more than 28,000 from the same time last year, with groups of brazen looters constantly breaking into stores and grabbing everything they could get their hands on.
One of these brazen shoplifters even declared on KPIX that anti-shoplifting laws in the city are ‘not very good because I’ve personally been able to shoplift from here with relative ease.’
Amid the crime spree, national pharmacy chain Walgreens has closed 17 of its 70 San Francisco locations in the past two years, citing shelf raiders who have swiped every kind of product not behind lock and key.
The retailer claims it needs to shutter five additional stores in the city because the soft laws on shoplifting have led to rampant theft.
Mayor London Breed disputed the company’s argument, claiming that Walgreens was simply trying to slash costs and increase profits – and that retail theft was an easy scapegoat.
She recently told reporters that she thinks ‘there are other factors that come into play’ and San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted that the pharmacy chain has ‘long-planned to close hundreds of locations.’
But the pharmacy chain insists that San Francisco’s rampant crime is to blame, revealing it spends 46 times as much on security at its city stores, which face five times as many shoplifting incidents compared with those elsewhere in the country.
Under California law, some ‘non-violent’ property crimes, where the value of the stolen goods does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors.
Meanwhile, requests to clean dirty streets and sidewalks are flooding the majority of calls to 311, the city’s services line.
Overall, though, crime has been trending down for years. More than 45,000 incidents have been reported so far this year, up from last year when most people were shut indoors, but below the roughly 60,000 complaints in previous years.
San Francisco’s well-publicized problems have served as fodder for conservative media outlets. Former President Donald Trump jumped in again recently, releasing a statement saying the National Guard should be sent to San Francisco to deter smash-and-grab robberies.
Homeless people set up camp on the side of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco
A man panhandling in a wheelchair, with open sores on his legs, makes his way past the Powell and Market Street cable car turnaround in San Francisco on December 2
Elected officials say they’re grappling with deep societal pains common to any large U.S. city.
A high percentage of an estimated 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco are struggling with chronic addiction or severe mental illness, usually both. Some people rant in the streets, nude and in need of medical help. Last year, 712 people died of drug overdoses, compared with 257 people who died of COVID-19.
LeAnn Corpus, an administrative assistant who enjoys figure skating, avoids the downtown rinks and won’t take her 8-year-old son there after dark because of all the open drug use. Still, the city’s urban ills have crept into her Portola neighborhood far from downtown.
A homeless man set up a makeshift tent outside her home using a bike and a bed sheet, and relieved himself on the sidewalk. She called the police, who came after two hours and cleared him out, but at her aunt’s home, a homeless person camped out against the backyard for six months despite attempts to get authorities to remove him.
‘This city just doesn´t feel the same anymore,’ said Corpus, a third-generation native.
One woman, Caitlin Foster, said she once loved the people and the city’s beauty, but after repeatedly clearing away used needles, other drug paraphernalia and human feces outside the bar she manages, and too many encounters with armed people in crisis, her affection for the city has soured.
‘It was a goal to live here, but now I’m here and I’m like, “Where am I going to move to now?” I´m over it,’ she said.
A security guard kept watch outside The Real Real Store amid the rise in burglaries. Some residents have now hired private security to monitor their neighborhoods
San Francisco residents who are generally uncomfortable with government surveillance have installed security cameras and deadbolts to prevent break-ins.
More than 150 families have hired the Patrol Special Officers – who are overseen by the police commissioner – to monitor the neighborhood.
‘We don’t feel safe in our neighborhood,’ Katie Lyons, resident of the Marina District neighborhood, told CBS San Francisco. ‘We have an alarm, we have cameras on our property, but we want the extra security of having someone have eyes on our place.’
Lyons said that she, like many other residents, is cautious about walking around outside.
‘Especially at night, I don’t walk with a purse, I’ll drive, or I’ll take an Uber, and it’s beginning to become a daytime problem too,’ she shared.
She also said it is not uncommon for stolen property, such as emptied luggage, to be discarded right outside her home.
Residents are now starting to eye others with suspicion.
Just the other night, Joya Pramanik’s husband spotted someone wearing a ski mask on what was an otherwise warm evening on their quiet street. She worried the masked man was up to no good – and it pains her to say that, since what she loves about San Francisco is its easy embrace of all types of characters.
Pramanik, a project manager who moved to the U.S. from India in her teens, cheered Trump’s failed reelection bid but says she realized too late that Democratic activists have hijacked her city.
‘If I say I want laws enforced, I´m racist,’ she said. ‘I´m like, “No, I´m not racist. There’s a reason I live in San Francisco.'”
Last year, Wolff, the retired chess player, helped launch a new political organization that aims to elect local officials focused on solving pressing problems. Families for San Francisco will elect Democrats, but it’s organized outside the city’s powerful Democratic Party establishment, he said.
Wolff hopes to change a civic mindset that no longer expects much in the way of basic public services.
In hip Hayes Valley, for example, business owners tired of seeing garbage strewn about and the city not doing anything to address the issue banded together to lease enclosed trash cans from a private company, said Jennifer Laska, president of the neighborhood association.
After the lease expired, the association managed to get the city to agree to buy and install new public garbage cans designed to keep trash in and pilferers out.
That was four months ago.
‘”We´re still struggling just to get the trash cans actually purchased,’ Laska said.
In the Marina, Lloyd Silverstein, a San Francisco native and president of the Hayes Valley Merchants Association, said businesses are considering hiring security guards and installing high-definition security cameras. He rejects the idea that any one city official is to blame for the situation, and he’s optimistic the city will recover.
‘We have been through big earthquakes and depressions and lots of stuff, but we have a pretty good bounce-back attitude. We´ve got some problems, but we´ll fix them,’ he said. ‘It may just take some time.’