While shopping at TJ Maxx, San Jose resident Ann Wang watched as a shoplifter walked brazenly out of the store. No one tried to stop him.
“This guy walked up to a shelf with purses for sale and grabbed 4 or 5 and walked out of TJ Maxx and hopped into the car and he and his accomplice sped off,” Wang wrote in a Nextdoor neighborhood post. “Only me and one other person witnessed this.”
The incident is not a one-off. Shoplifting has become rampant throughout the state, and San Jose has not been spared. The rise is directly attributed to Prop. 47, approved by voters in 2014. The law reclassified shoplifting from a felony to a misdemeanor for all thefts less than $950. In the last year, “rack and run” behavior has been blatant.
“I was at Macy’s at Oakridge and a guy came running past my car with an armful of clothes, purses and other items,” San Jose resident Gayle Chase added to the more than 175 comments on Nextdoor. “Had I been more alert, I would have tripped him. I showed security where he was but they didn’t seem to care.”
With the decriminalization of shoplifting, arrests for retail theft are rarely made, to avoid endangering customer and employee safety.
“The business first must want to pursue charges and be a victim of theft prior to making an arrest and/or issuing a citation,” San Jose Police Department spokesperson Christian Camarillo told San José Spotlight.
Many retailers have instituted policies prohibiting employees from pursuing shoplifters for this reason. A July incident at a Rite Aid in San Francisco cost an employee his life, when he was shot trying to stop two shoplifters.
“I definitely saw an increase in shoplifting, especially at the start of the pandemic,” said Angie Castaneda, who works at a major retailer in San Jose. Company policy does not permit her to disclose the name of her employer. “I want to say there are at least two to four cases a day. I remember when I first started I would only see maybe one to two a week.”
Beyond safety, confronting suspected shoplifters while still in the store can lead to other problems. If the store associates or loss prevention team cannot confirm someone is stealing, they run the risk of racially profiling innocent shoppers. In 2018, a Black woman accused the Macy’s in Westfield Oakridge Mall in South San Jose of racial profiling after she was stopped and searched.
April Paddock, a former loss prevention associate at Burlington Westgate, said racial profiling was heavily covered in her training.
“It was the number one reason they did not want us approaching customers with accusations of stealing,” she said.
Other retailers like Ross also have loss prevention teams, but company policy forbids employees from participating in media interviews. The numerous security officers at Target in Westfield Oakridge Mall were not able to discuss shoplifting either. The public relations contact for the mall could not be reached for comment.
“I’ve only witnessed maybe one arrest in the four years I’ve worked at this store,” Castaneda said.
Throughout the city, residents have watched shoplifters boldly walk out of stores such as Marshalls, Home Depot and CVS.
“My husband and I saw a guy at Walmart who had TVs in his cart and ran out the door. We told the manager but he didn’t do anything. They all have a no chase policy,” said Pat Arnold, a San Jose resident who commented on the Nextdoor postings.
Since stores refuse to take actions fearing shoplifter retaliation, little can be done to stop the thefts.
“I lost track of how many times people would go flying out the door with a suitcase or laundry hamper full of stuff,” Paddock said. “We would find stacks of snipped sensor tags everywhere. San Jose residents are extremely ballsy when it comes to shoplifting.”
Contact Kristen Pizzo at [email protected]