San Francisco ranks as the fifth-worst city in the US when it comes to retail theft. Now, the problem is getting so bad that businesses like Target and Walgreens are being forced to make drastic changes in response.
“For more than a month, we’ve been experiencing a significant and alarming rise in theft and security incidents at our San Francisco stores,” a Target spokesperson said. “With the safety of our guests, team members and communities as our top priority, we’ve temporarily reduced our operating hours in six San Francisco stores.”
Target stores normally stay open to 10:00pm, but many in the San Francisco area will now close their doors at 5:00pm or 6:00pm. Meanwhile, Walgreens stores are faring even worse, with some shutting their doors altogether.
“Representatives from Walgreens said that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable,” the New York Times reported.
This isn’t just a problem at big-box retailers, either. The California Retailers Association has decried the rampant theft, which is hurting Golden State businesses small and large. Theft has gotten so bad in some parts of San Francisco that it is beyond belief.
“I’m new to San Francisco,” Times journalist Thomas Fuller told a grocery store clerk shortly after moving to the city. “Is it optional to pay for things here?” It sounds like an absurd thing to ask, but Fuller explains that he was genuinely forced to wonder what was going on after he witnessed people walk into Walgreens and Safeway, grab stuff, and walk out.
The dysfunction-driven closures and scale-backs at major retailers will hurt everyday Californians. From the workers whose hours are cut to the customers who can’t get the products they need, this undermining of the market will have many victims beyond just those who are directly robbed.
The sad affair is another reminder of the timeless truth described by economist Thomas Sowell when he said that property rights “belong legally to individuals, but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.”
Protecting property rights is a necessary precursor for basic economic activity to function. As I previously explained on FEE.org:
“When property rights are insecure or routinely violated—widespread looting and arson are prime examples—the very foundation of a community’s economy is undermined. Investors understandably balk at the uncertainty and forgo investing there, while entrepreneurs cannot launch new enterprises or even continue current ones without the knowledge that they will be secure in their property. As a result, job opportunities and income streams dry up.”
This is why millions of our taxpayer dollars are given to police departments and other government agencies tasked with enforcing property and protecting our rights. But in San Francisco, they’ve woefully failed this most basic responsibility.
A 2014 ballot referendum downgraded theft of goods less than $950 in value to just a misdemeanor, a slap on the wrist, and the city’s enforcement against shoplifters has dwindled in the years since.
That’s why Target and Walgreens are being forced to take drastic actions to protect their stores. But if widespread violation of property rights continues unpunished, they won’t be the last businesses in San Francisco to close their doors in response.
Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a libertarian-conservative journalist and Policy Correspondent at the Foundation for Economic Education.
EDITORS NOTE: This FEE column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.
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