What began as a network of just six cameras in Union Square has grown to cover entire neighborhoods in SF in a private-security surveillance network that's been tapped by law enforcement on a daily basis.

The cameras are all owned by San Francisco-based Applied Video Solutions (AVS), which has contracted with multiple business improvement districts and other groups around the city, as the SF Business Times tells us. And the Big Brother behind the operation is CEO Dmitri Shimolin, who suggests that private security surveillance is going to be the backbone of law enforcement in the future. As he puts it, "No video, no case. That’s the reality."

Shimolin tells the Business Times that his company does not keep video files indefinitely, and only warehouses them for 30 days — on 1 petabyte of storage.

Many of the camera programs that have rolled out in SF have been bankrolled by one man, cryptocurrency mogul Chris Larsen, the founder of Ripple. Larsen tells the Business Times that he believes the criminals targeting SF neighborhoods number about 100 people, and "these are not homeless people — these are professional crews." He sees AVS's cameras as the solution to stopping this criminal activity, and so he started writing checks. The group Russian Hill Neighbors (Larsen lives in Russian Hill) got $400,000 to install cameras, the Union Square Business Improvement District got $200,000, and the Japantown Community Benefit District (CBD) got $750,000.

Now large parts of Union Square, Russian Hill, the Tenderloin, Fisherman's Wharf, Polk Gulch, and Japantown are all under surveillance by AVS cameras.

Karen Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District, tells the Business Times, "a lot of crazy things that happen at night" around Union Square, and their camera program is going 24 hours starting in January.

Meanwhile, the Lower Polk CBD got a grant from CPMC Sutter Health, which just opened a huge new hospital in the neighborhood, to install a 16-camera system, and the executive director of that group, Christian Martin, tells the paper "The police come once a month to retrieve footage — anything from fights to stabbings to assaults have been captured on their system." By "stabbings," Martin may be referring to this fatal stabbing at Van Ness and Fern that happened two weeks ago. The SFPD arrested a 38-year-old suspect in that case last week.