SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Police in San Francisco are touting a significant drop in retail crime since a series of smash-and-grab robberies in November led to an increased police presence in Union Square.

However, some small business owners are voicing concerns about theft in other areas of the city.

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The recently implemented crime-prevention strategies including a much heavier police presence in the area were in response to the organized gang robberies in and around Union Square on Nov. 19. According to a report released by the San Francisco Police Department, statistics show sharp drops in incidents of assault, burglary, and larceny/theft for the period Nov. 20 through Dec. 6 compared to the preceding 16-day period.

The report showed a there has been a 67% decrease in assaults, a 91% decrease in burglaries and an 82% decrease in thefts since the department implemented the Union Square Safe Shopper program.

Tourists told KPIX the visible presence helps.

“Yeah, you just feel safer being in this big city. It’s different,” said Justina Velasco who was visiting from Virginia

“Their presence here has made a remarkable difference. People are feeling really good about it,” said Union Square Alliance Executive Director Marisa Rodriguez. “They’re feeling safe when they’re out and about shopping during the holiday season. Having them here has made all the difference.”

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said the staffing move makes financial sense for the city.

“Union Square represents almost 40 percent of our retail sales in San Francisco,” explained Safai. “It is extremely important to our city. Front line workers, jobs, sales tax, travel industry — so much of what makes our city run is represented there. So we need to have that presence.”

On Thursday, San Francisco’s District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar – who represents the Sunset – held a meeting with small business community members as they discussed what they’ve experienced.

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An SFPD police commander also participated in the conversation to try to find solutions to the recent increase in crime. One business owner said his story has been hit more than once.

“It seems like we are losing hope in the system in general; that the system is not helping or doing anything,” said Michael Hsu, who owns the Footprint shoe store on Taraval. “When larger companies are hit, there is action taken immediately, which is good. It is important. But when small businesses are impacted, action seems to be a little bit slower.”

KPIX asked San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott about the concerns expressed by business owners in other areas of the city being affected by retail theft.

“One of the things that we are trying to do and will try to sustain as well is give those business corridors outside of Union Square attention,” said Scott.
“For instance, our motorcycle officers are doing patrols in those areas. It gets to a need question. And as I keep saying, we have to deploy to the needs of the city. That is a very difficult thing to do when you don’t have enough people to begin with.”

The chief said the department is stretched thin and officers are working hard, adding that increased overtime and funding would help officers cover more ground.

Scott also said restoring the feeling of safety was a priority for the department.

“Making people feel that it’s okay to come to Union Square to shop; it’s okay to come to our city and shop,” said Scott. “And that’s one of our objectives of our police department – reducing the fear of crime is as important as reducing crime itself.”

On Nov. 24, five people who were arrested after the crime spree in San Francisco’s Union Square appeared before a judge for the first time.

Jamisi Callaway, 24; Francill White, 53; Tomiko Miller, 23; Kimberly Cherry, 28; and Ivan Speed, 34, were all charged with multiple felonies for their alleged involvement in the smash-and-grab incident at the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square on Nov. 19. Nine people have been charged so far in the crime spree.

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Andria Borba contributed to this story.