The small town of Houlton is about to become one of the most surveilled communities on the U.S. border thanks to the police chief’s decision to install more surveillance cameras per-thousand residents than can be found in New York City.
“Considering we live in a world of continuous video in many locations, I expect positive support from the public considering the objective,” said Timothy DeLuca, who is currently serving as both police chief and Houlton town manager.
The new cameras were approved at a public hearing of the Houlton Town Council because their existing system was degrading.
In written comments to the Maine Wire, DeLuca did not specify exactly how many new cameras would be installed, but he did say that 50 cameras would be a conservative estimate.
“Consider[ing] municipal buildings in Houlton (police, fire, EMS, public works, recreation, civic center, airport, parks, gaming fields and cemeteries) 50 is a conservative number,” said DeLuca.
Assuming that Houlton will have only 50 cameras total, excluding whatever cameras already exist, and however many new cameras over 50 are installed, the small rural town would have eight cameras per thousand residents, given the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate of 6,064 Houlton residents in 2022.
The eight cameras per thousand estimate (which is probably significantly less than the actual number) is nonetheless more cameras-per-thousand than are found in New York City, which only has seven cameras-per-thousand.
DeLuca was careful to assert that the cameras are not intended to monitor everyday residents, nor will footage collected from the cameras be used as the only evidence required for an arrest.
However, the footage will be monitored at the Houlton Police Department, and, although it is only intended to be reviewed when there is a suspected crime, police will have constant access to the footage.
DeLuca also suggested that the town was surveyed so that the cameras could be placed to result in maximum town-wide coverage.
Some, but not all, of the new cameras will have signs notifying residents that they are being watched. But signs will only be put up “where required” according to DeLuca, or where the signs might discourage crime.
“The initial commitment was 130,000 [dollars] which includes the hardware, software, installation, and connection,” said DeLuca.
The new cameras and software were purchased from the security company Verkada, which has also provided security cameras for Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Cameras are currently being installed by Swallows electric, a local Houlton company, with the installation projected to finish within a few weeks.
DeLuca’s simultaneous positions of town manager and police chief have led some to express concerns over a possible conflict of interest, suggesting that DeLuca is using his position as town manager to further the police department’s interests by installing the new cameras.
The added surveillance has proven divisive amongst Houlton residence, with some questioning the price tag and need for surveillance, while others have said the added cameras are called for by increased drug-related crime.
“I don’t understand what everyone is complaining about. If your not doing anything wrong than you have absolutely nothing to worry about,” Duska R. Howell wrote on the Houlton Talks Facebook page. “Let us not forget a lot of businesses have been broken into.”
“Could’ve put it towards something useful like repairing the roads in and around town,” said John Smalley. “Blows my mind the stupid s*** the town council decides to spend the taxpayers’ money on.”
“I think it’s great. They’ll only pull the footage when something needs to be investigated,” said Mike Jewell. “Extra security in any town should be praised.”
The Maine Wire reached out to Houlton’s state representative, Rep. Gregory Swallows (R-Houlton) to ask his opinion, but did not immediately respond.