Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on July 16, 2015
Arrest Stirs Call For Action At Jackson Street SafewayPhotos: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline

An arrest made last weekend at the Safeway at 145 Jackson St. has resulted in a flurry of discussion on social media, with neighbors calling for better security.

According to Officer Robert Duffield of the SFPD Central Station, police were called after a Safeway employee confronted a woman near the self-serve soup station around 9:30am this past Sunday, July 12th. She allegedly threw soup at him and said, "This is my store!"

The suspect was across the street at Sydney Walton Square when officers arrived. She tried to run, but they caught and arrested her. Since the employee wasn't harmed or burned, she wasn't charged with a felony, but due to two unrelated no-bail warrants for arson and burglary, she's been in custody ever since. "She’s no stranger to the police, especially in the Southern District," Duffield said, though he declined to provide her name.

Gateway Apartments resident Ann Long was in the store at the time of the incident, and said a woman "was making a mess around the clam chowder." Long says the woman picked up the metal lid to the soup terrine tureen and threw it; it crashed against the window and landed on the floor. The woman then went past the checkout counters, throwing soup all over the flowers in the floral department. 

"People were super scared," Long said. "I saw one lady run out of the store." She said that she's seen the woman around the neighborhood and "she's always talking out loud to herself," but this is the first time she's seen her cause any trouble.

However, Long said she and other neighbors have communicated with Safeway many times about rampant theft by homeless people in the store. “Safeway employees are told 'hands off,'" she said. "The guards they have there are useless; they’re hands-off. It’s a recipe for disaster. [Thieves] know they can go take whatever they want; nobody will do anything to them.” (Safeway public affairs did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this story.)

The Jackson Safeway has seen only 15 police calls in the past six months, according to SFPD Lt. Hector Jusino. But that doesn't mean thefts aren't happening. "I’ve seem them take a baby stroller in and fill it up with beef jerky," Long said. "I've seen them take big [bottles] of Tide, because they can sell those easily. One time, I watched a guy walk out with 11 bottles of vodka." The thieves break off any anti-theft devices by hitting them against a wall, she added.

Long isn't the only customer who has complained about the Safeway. After she posted about the soup incident on Nextdoor.com, she received several responses from people with similar concerns, with one commenter raising the possibility of getting a petition together to ask the store to increase security. Long said many Gateway tenants have complained in writing to the store.

After witnessing a theft on July 9th, Gateway resident Paul Masson sent a comment to Safeway using the company's comment form. In an excerpt from the letter, he writes: "You seriously need to improve the security of this store, not just for your customers but your employees as well. The lone security guard normally there was nowhere to be seen during these incidents, leaving the manager alone to deal with a problem requiring police intervention. Please beef up your security presence here! Thanks for listening." Masson also suggests customers call the police themselves when they see a problem, so there's a record of incidents.

Long said that her understanding is that stores don't bother calling the police for petty thefts, because the courts don't want to bother with them. "They’re probably reporting a fraction of what happens," Officer Duffield concurred. "We can arrest [thieves] a bunch of times, but it’s up to the district attorney to sort it out.” 

"We have to do something," Long said. "It’s a crime scene waiting to happen." She said she once talked with a Safeway executive and told him he would be the "fall guy" if anyone was seriously harmed or killed at the store and it comes out that they didn't take steps to ensure customers' security. "Within two days, they had a guard there," she said. But she still sees thefts on a daily basis, and worries it will escalate. 

At a community meeting on homelessness on May 6th, Long talked to District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen about the store, the homeless people in the area, and her concerns about rampant theft and safety. She said the supervisor didn't follow up with her about it, but Christensen said that in the days after the meeting, she held two or three meetings with SFPD Central Station Capt. David Lazar and Safeway security to discuss improving the situation. "If she feels the situation hasn’t been addressed, we can look at it again," Christensen told Hoodline. 

Christensen said Long is the only person who's contacted her with concerns about the Jackson Safeway. "People should get in touch with us," she said. "Our ability to marshal resources and focus on this is partly complaint-driven. It’s helpful for us to collect this information and be in touch with those people. I’d encourage readers who have first-hand knowledge of this situation to contact our office and help us build our case."

Mayor Ed Lee and District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen.

Issues with homeless people are widespread in her district, Christensen said. "I’m hearing similar comments from Polk Street, Nob Hill, south of Bay Street in North Beach and in Chinatown. The problem is not at all unique to the Gateway area. We have seen an increase in the homeless population in the northeast part of the city."

Christensen said she's met with the captains of SFPD Central and Southern stations. Their goal will be to try to target repeat offenders and the hot spots where the majority of crimes occur, and to "alter the perception" in the justice system that these are minor crimes, she said.

She says she's also meeting this week with homeless advocates and outreach teams. "The good news is that the mayor is taking master leases out on 500 rooms in the city. Not only can we engage homeless people in the city [with services], but we have a bed for them."

Still, Long worries that the homeless, many of whom are likely mentally ill, will hurt others. "The bad thing is, you don’t have to say anything to these homeless people," she said. "If you look at them the wrong way, they get upset."

Officer Duffield agreed. “My perception is that there’s more [homeless] and they’re definitely more volatile," he said. "I’ve been on the force 17 years, and I’ve used more force in the past two than I used in the previous 15 ... If they’re not afraid of assaulting police officers, they’re not afraid of assaulting innocent people."