San Francisco stores install exit gates, chain locks to thwart shoplifters

San Francisco supermarkets and retailers are implementing unprecedented security measures to thwart what has been described as rampant shoplifting.

Safeway has introduced exit gates at self-checkout lines in its supermarkets, requiring customers to scan their receipts before leaving the store. The exit gates are only at certain locations around the Bay Area. While they are an unusual site in retail businesses, the barriers are similar to gates installed in mass transit systems like BART and Muni.

"Like other local businesses, we are working on ways to curtail escalating theft so we can ensure the wellbeing of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers," said a spokesperson for Safeway.

The company further emphasized that the security enhancement had been planned well in advance.

While Safeway is taking proactive steps, other retailers have tried novel ways to reduce theft.

A Walgreens location in San Francisco's Richmond section strapped chains across ice cream freezers to apparently block thieves from pilfering the shelves, according to photos posted on social media by Richie Greenberg, a former San Francisco mayoral candidate who spearheaded the Chesa Boudin recall movement.

The drugstore chain acknowledged that theft poses a significant challenge for retailers, but did not directly address the security method seen in Greenberg's viral tweet.

"Retail crime is one of the top challenges facing our industry today. We continue to take preventative measures to safely deter theft and aim to deliver the best patient and customer experience," a spokesperson for Walgreens said in a statement.

Walgreens customers expressed that witnessing shoplifters freely navigating the aisles, taking merchandise without consequence, has become a distressingly familiar occurrence.

"I have seen people actively grabbing stuff off the shelves and walking out the door," said customer Deborah Goldstein.

Goldstein said it's frustrating that stores have to lock up merchandise.

"It is terrible because you have to wait, you have to ask for a clerk to come and unlock anything that you want to buy, including a soda," she said.

Additionally, Walgreens said it is actively collaborating with law enforcement, elected officials, and community leaders to raise awareness and improve the response to retail crime.

According to a San Francisco police sergeant, the responsibility of safeguarding merchandise and employing security measures, if necessary, ultimately lies with the retailer. The sergeant noted that in many instances, Walgreens would contact the police, requesting the return of stolen items, while opting not to pursue legal charges.

"But then what happens is the Walgreens corporation, that means the employees, will have to show up in court to testify. And I think that's where the particular problem is. It's tying up their employees to go to court on these retail thefts," the sergeant said.

Retail businesses in San Francisco of all kinds have complained of brazen shoplifting in recent years. The problem has been captured in many viral social media posts showing assertive suspects and hapless employees.