Why Did a Tech Executive Install 1,000 Security Cameras Around San Francisco?

The New York Times explains why Chris Larsen installed over a thousand surveillance cameras around San Francisco to monitor 135 city blocks:
It sounds sinister. A soft-spoken cryptocurrency mogul is paying for a private network of high-definition security cameras around the city. Zoom in and you can see the finest details: the sticker on a cellphone, the make of a backpack, the color of someone’s eyes… While violent crime is not high in the city, property crime is a constant headache. Anyone who lives here knows you shouldn’t leave anything — not a pile of change, not a scarf — in a parked car… locals are tired of the break-ins.

So how do they reconcile “defund the police” with “stop the smash and grabs”? Mr. Larsen believes he has the answer: Put security cameras in the hands of neighborhood groups. Put them everywhere. He’s happy to pay for it…. Here is what he is doing: Writing checks for nearly $4 million to buy cameras that record high-definition video of the streets and paying to have them maintained by a company called Applied Video Solutions. The rest is up to locals in neighborhood coalitions like Community Benefit Districts, nonprofits formed to provide services to the area. Here is how the project works: Neighbors band together and decide where to put the cameras. They are installed on private property at the discretion of the property owner, and in San Francisco many home and business owners want them. The footage is monitored by the neighborhood coalition. The cameras are always recording…

As proponents of Mr. Larsen’s network see things, they get the safety of a surveillance state without the state… It is arguably more compelling evidence in court because the video is monitored by a third-party intermediary who can testify that it is a continuous feed. It is time stamped. And because the network covers many blocks, the footage can tell a broader story than a single camera about an event that might be moving from block to block, in the case of, for example, a fight…. “This has underscored the importance of not just cameras but of communitywide camera coverage,” Mr. Larsen said.

“Body cams show some pretty core weaknesses because we don’t have universal access to police body cam footage, and there’s a fundamental conflict of interest if the video shows something bad for the department.” The answer is more cameras, he said, and then keep that footage in the hands of citizens. He argued that trust will come in the form of full city camera coverage, so police can play a smaller, more subtle role. Individual vigilantism will not work, he argued, but strong neighborhoods with continuous video feeds on every corner will. “That’s the winning formula,” Mr. Larsen said. “Pure coverage.”
The locally-stored footage is erased after 30 days. Thought it’s not covered by the city’s newly-enacted ban on facial recognition software, Larsen says “We’re strongly opposed to facial recognition technology. Facial recognition is too powerful given the lack of laws and protections to make it acceptable.”

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