A CNN news crew recently did a spot on rampant shoplifting in San Francisco Walgreens stores, highlighting how the retailer had padlocked freezers full of pizzas and TV dinners at its 5280 Geary Blvd. location. That Walgreens, the company told CNN, has the highest theft rate of any of its stores across the country.
But police dispatch data from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management analyzed by The Standard shows the two Walgreens with the most theft cases reported to police from January through May 2023 are on Mission Street.
The dispatch data only reflects crimes that were reported to the police.
The Walgreens with the most reported thefts in the first five months of this year was at 2690 Mission St., followed by the store at 3398 Mission St., according to an analysis of police dispatch data to 41 of the company’s San Francisco stores.
Police dispatch recorded 152 petty theft reports and three grand theft reports at the 2690 Mission St. store during that period. Petty theft is defined in San Francisco as when someone steals items worth less than $950, while grand theft is stealing items worth more than $950.
There were 81 petty theft reports logged at the 3398 Mission St. store and no grand thefts. Meanwhile, at the 5280 Geary Blvd. location, dispatch data shows 15 petty theft incidents and a lone grand theft.
The Walgreens at 2960 Mission St. was quiet for the 45 minutes The Standard spent there. But there was no shortage of products locked behind plastic, including over-the-counter allergy pills, makeup and Tide pods.
The Standard spotted no shoplifters at the 3398 Mission St. Walgreens during a 45-minute visit. That store also had many locked-away items, such as vitamin supplements, cough syrup and shampoo.
A Walgreens spokesperson said retail crime is one of the top challenges facing the industry today.
“We continue to take preventative measures to safely deter theft and aim to deliver the best patient and customer experience, and we are working closely with law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders to draw greater attention to and improve our response to retail crime,” the spokesperson said.
Police dispatch logged nearly 750 petty or grand theft incidents at all San Francisco Walgreens stores in the first five months of 2023. The most common result saw officers note that they "handled" the situation—which happened in 207 of the incidents, according to the dispatch data. In 180 incidents, the suspect was gone by the time police arrived, and officers wrote reports in 146 incidents.
Just one dispatch resulted in an arrest, according to the data, though that doesn't count any arrests officers later made after they were first dispatched to the scene.
Overall in San Francisco, the number of larceny theft incidents logged by police dropped 8% in the first five months of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022. There were about 12,700 larceny thefts from January 2023 through May 2023, significantly fewer than the pre-pandemic total of 15,300 in 2019.
San Francisco District Attorney’s Office spokesman Randy Quezada said there had been at least eight criminal cases related to Walgreens stores in San Francisco between January and May of this year—none are for shoplifting, but three relate to burglaries. Four of the cases are for misdemeanor charges, and four are felony offenses.
Two misdemeanor cases brought to court during that period have led to convictions. One person was convicted of a misdemeanor burglary at the Walgreens at 1189 Potrero Ave. Another person was convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery at the Walgreens at 2690 Mission St.
Three of the felony cases for burglary, vandalism and assault are currently pending, and one robbery case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
A Walgreens spokesperson declined to provide detailed information on which of their San Francisco stores were targeted by shoplifters most frequently or the value of goods stolen.
Five Walgreens stores closed in San Francisco in 2021, and two Downtown San Francisco Walgreens stores shuttered in February 2022. Walgreens currently operates about 40 stores in San Francisco.
Employees at the 3398 Mission St. store said they see people leave with items they didn’t pay for approximately every 10 to 30 minutes. Those working at the store spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the press.
Commonly stolen items include paper towels, candy and cough syrup, according to workers, who added that the suspects often flee into waiting cars or sometimes a Muni bus.
When Walgreens closed five stores closed in San Francisco in 2021, the company blamed retail theft as the reason, although it was later revealed that the stores had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month between 2018 and 2021. A Walgreens executive also said at the end of 2022 that the pharmacy chain had “cried too much” about theft and may cut back on security guards.
Banko Brown, a transgender man, was fatally shot by an armed security guard after shoplifting from a Walgreens at Market and Fourth streets on April 27. The killing led Walgreens to cut ties with security company Kingdom Group Protective Services, who employed the guard who shot Brown.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ decision not to file charges against the guard who fatally shot Brown, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, led to protests and criticism of the DA and Mayor London Breed. Anthony was later fined $1,500 for not wearing a badge identifying him as a security guard and having a concealed weapon.
When contacted for comment on using Muni buses to flee after shoplifting on Mission Street, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency deferred to police.
The San Francisco Police Department said it could not provide further information about why theft at these two stores might be so high or how often shoplifters take Muni to get away.
“We know that suspects use all forms of transportation to get to and from areas where they commit crimes,” police spokesperson Robert Rueca said. “Our investigations attempt to gather as much information as possible, which may include the method of transportation used, but there is no automated way to gather this data.”
Garrett Leahy can be reached at email@example.com