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I went to Apple Stores to ask about rampant thefts. They kicked me out

“You’re making unnecessary noise, and it’s distracting our customers,” an Apple Store employee said before kicking me out.

Customers shop in an Apple Store.
Customers shop in the Apple Store in Berkeley on Wednesday. Apple Stores in Berkeley and Emeryville saw dozens of iPhones stolen in two February thefts incidents. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Anyone who’s been on social media or watched Bay Area TV news will surely have seen the footage of masked thieves storming Apple Stores.

Berkeley’s Fourth Street store seems to be a particular favorite for shoplifters, with headlines about iPhone raids dating back to at least 2022.

As a journalist who spends a lot of time hanging around regularly shoplifted hot spots like San Francisco’s Walgreens, Target and Safeway stores, I decided (my editor told me) it was time to take a trip across the Bay Bridge and visit the Berkeley and Emeryville stores to see if they’d talk to me about their rampant theft problems.

Emeryville’s Apple Store wasn’t really on The Standard’s radar until a viral video popped up two days after a Feb. 5 robbery. The 45-second video shows a masked man in bright red shoes ripping display iPhones from their security tethers and stuffing them into his trousers before skipping out of the store—and running past a cop car.

The video ends right before he enters a waiting getaway car. The man, identified by authorities as 22-year-old Tyler Mims, of Berkeley, has since been arrested.

A man steals iPhones from an Apple store.
A still from a viral video shows a man stealing dozens of iPhones from the Emeryville Apple Store on Bay Street on Feb. 5.

I pulled up to Emeryville’s Bay Street Apple Store on a dreary Wednesday morning and wandered into the store, introducing myself politely to staffers as a reporter. But before I could finish my finely tuned “please talk to me” pitch, workers clammed up, said they didn’t know anything about thefts and essentially ran away. 

Seconds later, a manager steamed over to me, telling me I’d have to email corporate. I already had—Apple's representatives still haven’t responded. Perhaps they never will?

Sidestepping the nice manager, I decided I’d chat with a customer. Had they seen the viral video? 

But before they could fully answer, another Apple employee kicked me out. 

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store,” the Apple worker said. “You’re making unnecessary noise, and it’s distracting our customers.”

A person holding a shopping bag walks past an Apple store.
A person walks past an Apple store in Emeryville on Wednesday. The store suffered a theft on Feb. 5, which was captured in a viral video. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

After getting the boot, I approached the cop car, which I recognized from the viral video, and spoke to an officer inside. She told me it was a “ghost car” and didn’t usually have an officer in it. It was meant solely as a deterrent. Clearly, it doesn’t always work. 

Standing on the sidewalk outside the Emeryville store, I met Apple customer and Richmond resident Maya Rai, who didn’t know about thefts there but said the idea that someone could suddenly and brazenly steal iPhones like that made her feel unsafe.

“It’s scary,” Rai said. “What if you’re in the way? You could get shoved. And what if they’re armed? It’s something that can happen very suddenly.”

A woman poses for a standing photo portrait.
Maya Rai stands outside the Apple Store in Emeryville on Wednesday. Rai said the possibility of a shoplifting incident while she is nearby scares her. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Next, I decided to peruse the other stores at Bay Street and see if they’d been stormed by thieves, too. 

At Victoria’s Secret, one employee said she had seen the viral video. 

“It’s crazy,” she said after declining to tell me her name because she didn’t have corporate approval to talk. “Just the amount they stole and with so many people watching.”

The lingerie store also gets hit by thieves, she said. Roughly twice a month, shoplifters take off with bags full of bras, panties and perfume, costing the store tens of thousands of dollars.

“Ten thousand dollars, and that’s like the minimum,” the worker said. “We’ve been hit for $30,000 or $40,000 before.”

Lingerie is displayed inside a Victoria's Secret store.
This reporter was kicked out of a Victoria's Secret in Emeryville after asking workers and customers about thefts at a nearby Apple Store. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Before I could learn more, she was summoned to help a customer. Then, a mall security guard informed me he’d be following me around for the duration of my stay. 

“They want me to keep an eye on you,” the guard said. “It’s what the boss wants.”

I went looking for another Victoria’s Secret staffer to speak with, yellow-clad security guard in tow. Another employee told me she hadn’t been working there long and couldn’t answer my questions.

“Find something in your color yet?” the security guard asked. I had not.

I tried a customer, but a manager shot over and told me I couldn’t speak to staff or shoppers. They did give me a phone number for corporate on my way out. I called and left a voicemail, but never heard back. 

Soon after leaving the lingerie store, my boss called. He said a panicked man had emailed and left a voicemail on our tips line and wanted to know if we had a reporter on assignment there. We did; it was me, Garrett Leahy.

Feeling run out of town, like a thief in the old west, I decided it was time to visit Berkeley’s Apple Store, carrying a measure of hope in my heart that perhaps the staff there would be friendlier. (My editor wrote that last line. I actually was pissed.)

‘Solicitation is not allowed inside the store’

I got kicked out of Berkeley’s Apple store faster than you can say “Genius Bar.”

Having learned from my very short time at the Emeryville store, I skipped the staff and went straight to customers. I began asking them whether they knew about a Feb. 7 theft of 75 iPhones. About two minutes in, right when I was about to get their names, the store manager came over and told me I was not allowed to speak with customers or workers.

“Solicitation is not allowed inside the store,” the manager said.

iPhones are displayed inside an Apple Store.
iPhones are displayed inside the Berkeley Apple Store on Wednesday. Thieves stole 75 iPhones from that store on Feb. 7, court documents allege. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

It was once again time to go. 

Stepping into the cold and the rain, I went into the Rabat shoe store next door. Like at other shops that day, the employee I met said she couldn’t provide her name without corporate approval but said theft is a constant scourge of the Fourth Street Apple Store.

“It happens all the time,” she said. “I see it, like, once a week.”

Apple customer and Oakland resident TJ Sherpa said he didn’t know about thefts at the Berkeley store but had seen the viral video of the Emeryville store thief.

“It’s shitty,” Sherpa said. “I don’t like that people can come in and just take whatever they want.”