San Diego CBS Station Blamed for Increase in Arrests of Unhoused

By Kevin Eck 

San Diego PBS station KPBS is reporting that CBS affiliate KFMB is responsible for an increase in arrests and citations for people using abandoned shopping carts while experiencing homelessness. The report was done by inewsource.

In August 2019, KFMB aired a two-minute segment about abandoned shopping carts in the area and how consumers end up paying for them. KPBS said the police response to the story was “almost immediate.” From KPBS:

Arrests and citations against unhoused San Diegans in possession of a shopping cart increased by nearly 300%, according to an inewsource analysis of police data. City and police officials did not respond to any questions about this, nor did the news station.


But media experts criticized the reporting and emphasized what it left out — the perspective of people experiencing homelessness who rely on shopping carts every day. Without that perspective, viewers were left to fill in the gaps, said Toni Albertson, a journalism professor at USC Annenberg.

“You could see this ending up on Nextdoor or something, and then the narrative becomes something like, ‘Homeless people are committing crimes and affecting the price of our produce!’” Albertson said.

“They’re kind of throwing it out there and then letting people come to their own conclusions,” Albertson said, “which can be dangerous, in itself, to not have any meat to that story at all.”

>UPDATE: We heard back from Tegna which said KFMB’s director of content Dana McDaniel reached out to inewsource’s editor to share its concerns regarding the story, “including that our reporting on abandoned shopping carts found in suburban neighborhoods was somehow responsible for San Diego police deciding to ramp up citations against the unhoused is, in our opinion, speculative.”

KFMB’s original story from 2019 is about the concerns people have about shopping carts being left in neighborhoods. It was not a story about the unhoused or shopping carts in the possession of the unhoused, it is a story focused on what you can do if an empty, abandoned shopping cart ends up on your street and how that also impacts businesses. None of the footage shown in our story ever showed an unhoused person. In fact, the video and sound used in the story centered around a community where elderly people were using carts to transport things from the store to their homes and then never returning the carts.

We take great pride in doing no harm in our reporting and hope to hear back from inewsource’s editor soon.

Before the story aired, KPBS said San Diego police officers were averaging five arrests and citations per month involving the possession of a stolen shopping cart. KPBS said half of those were in addition to other crimes like encroachment or possession of a controlled substance.

“It’s important for journalists to consider the potential consequences of the reporting and to minimize any negative impacts as much as possible,” Albertson said.

According to KPBS, “inewsource focused its analysis on the law that deals with mere possession of a shopping cart. To ensure the 300% increase wasn’t an anomaly, inewsource also analyzed arrests and citations for appropriation of stolen property. There, too, officers stepped up enforcement in the months that followed the TV news story. The actual number of arrests and citations against unhoused people in possession of a shopping cart is unknown.”