A security camera trailer at the Hannaford Supermarket parking lot on Forest Avenue in Portland. The business is one of several in Maine that installed surveillance systems in recent months to deter theft. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Tall poles with flashing blue lights, solar panels, cameras and loudspeakers are popping up in the parking lots of some Maine businesses, drawing attention, questions and criticism.

Every 15 minutes at the Walgreens on Marginal Way, a robotic voice bellows from a speaker 22 feet in the air: “This is Walgreens security services. This property is being monitored 24/7.”

The poles are mobile surveillance systems, installed to scare off would-be criminals and curb growing retail theft around the country.

But critics argue that increased surveillance creates privacy concerns and may do more harm than good.

The mobile security systems, designed by Utah-based LiveView Technologies, or LVT, feature 24-hour, 360-degree cameras, motion sensors, two-way speakers, flashing blue lights, alarms and real-time alerts.

Viper Security, which contracts with LVT, is getting regular calls to set up the mobile surveillance systems in Maine, according to owner Matt Goodwin.


Goodwin, who is based in New Hampshire, said he’s installed at least three systems in the state in the last six months – two in Portland, at Walgreens on Marginal Way and the Hannaford on Forest Avenue, and one at a 7-Eleven in Lewiston. He knows of at least one other in a Lowe’s parking lot, but is not sure which of the company’s 11 Maine stores has it.

Lowe’s and other companies buy the systems outright and monitor their own footage, so Goodwin doesn’t do the installation. An LVT spokesperson would not say how many poles there are in Maine.

“They are growing in popularity pretty rapidly,” Goodwin said. “The big retailers are finding them helpful to deter crime and record what’s happening in parking lots that they can’t see with regular cameras.”

They’re also popular at construction sites, car dealerships and large events like concerts.

“It’s just kind of ingrained in all of us that if you see blue lights, you shouldn’t be doing anything wrong,” Goodwin said. “It reminds you that the law is watching.”

The units aren’t cheap. Goodwin wouldn’t say how much it costs for installation but said the subscription for the system and its accompanying software is about $2,000 to $3,000 a month.



The National Retail Federation estimates that retailers lost $40.5 billion to external theft, including organized retail crime, in 2022. That’s about 36% of total inventory losses – slightly lower than the 37% in 2021.

Retail theft has always been a problem in Maine, but organized retail crime is on the rise, said Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine.

A December 2023 report by Forbes ranked Maine the third worst in the nation for retail thefts.

Organized retail gangs target retailers, steal what they can – usually small, relatively high-value items like makeup or over-the-counter medications – and sell the loot online at a discount, Picard said.

New England is particularly susceptible because it’s easy to hit three or four states in one trip up the I-95 corridor, he said. With websites like Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, buying and selling items online is easier than ever and many consumers, drawn in by low prices, don’t stop to verify the sellers.


“It’s not who you are as a retailer, more the items you’re selling,” Picard said. “We hear concerns from both small and large businesses.”

Retail theft can be difficult to quantify because police agencies frequently do not differentiate between theft from stores and other kinds of robbery. Many thefts also go unreported or unnoticed.

Portland police say the surge in retail thefts isn’t playing out as heavily in the city. Last year, police responded to 240 reports, down from 279 in 2022. So far this year there have been 73 reports of theft.

But retailers are hardly the only victims. Just this year, police have investigated burglaries at four Portland-area restaurants within a few weeks of each other, a string of robberies at Maine churches, a break-in at a Westbrook coffee shop and a robbery at the Big Apple convenience store in Waterville.

The Maine Department of Public Safety, which does not single out retail theft, noted an increase in thefts from 2021-22, from 7,430 reports of larceny, robbery and theft from buildings in 2021 to 8,586 in 2022.

The data can’t be compared with previous years because the reporting categories have changed.


Goodwin said he’s been surprised by the interest in security poles from states like Maine and Vermont, which have consistently reported some of the lowest crime rates in the country.

The October mass shooting in Lewiston that killed 18 people was a turning point, he said.

“It reminds me that you’re not necessarily safe in Maine,” he said. “You’re not safe really anywhere.”


Security companies have steadily decreased the size of their cameras in recent years, on the theory that they can better catch people in the act if they can’t spot the cameras, said Matt Deighton, LVT’s senior communications manager.

“Our theory is the opposite,” he said.


The poles are conspicuous, which sends the message, Deighton said, that “this location takes security seriously.”

LVT has been making the mobile surveillance systems for nearly a decade but they’ve caught on in the last four years, he said.

On average, he said, stores that have them see a 40% decrease in theft and a 70% decrease of violent activity on their properties.

A surveillance camera trailer at the Hannaford Supermarket parking lot on Forest Avenue in Portland. The grocery chain installed the security systems at six of its busiest locations.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hannaford installed a system at its Forest Avenue location in March and in five other locations in New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

A spokesperson said the units were installed at the grocery chain’s busiest locations as an additional layer of security and as a precautionary measure.

“The units help us continue to foster a safe and welcoming environment for our associates and customers. Both our associates and customers have shared that they appreciate the presence of these units and the peace of mind they offer when visiting our stores. … We believe that this type of technology benefits the public safety of our communities,” the company said in a statement.


Walgreens did not respond to requests to discuss the security measures at the Marginal Way location. Both poles are in a part of the city that has grappled with homeless encampments in recent years, though the city’s largest encampment on the Bayside Trail was cleared in 2023.

Portland Police did not respond to a records request seeking the number and nature of reports from the two locations each month, so it was not clear how often those stores have been targeted or whether the systems have been effective.


In the Walgreens parking lot on a recent afternoon, Kevin Riley, 62, and Tammy Riley, 61, said they feel safer knowing the area is monitored but that they also felt safe before the cameras were installed.

A Viper Security camera trailer at the Walgreens parking lot on Marginal Way in Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

They had seen the blue lights when driving around but were surprised when they heard its recorded message, which plays every 15 minutes.

Noah Stracqualursi, 24, said he can’t hear the announcement or see the lights flashing from his apartment directly across from Walgreens, so the pole doesn’t bother him. The unit was installed just a few weeks after he moved in this winter.


He said he hasn’t felt unsafe in the area but it’s “not the worst thing to have around” at night when it starts to “get a little sketchy out there.”

Skyler Cummings, 25, noticed the security system in the parking lot, which reminds her of animated robot WALL-E.

Cummings grew up in Portland and said she feels safe in the city – more so without this new technology.

A surveillance camera trailer at the Walgreens parking lot on Marginal Way in Portland. People walking in the area recently had mixed thoughts about whether the device makes them feel more or less safe.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Any increased surveillance makes me feel less safe,” she said.

One woman, who declined to share her name, said she works with the homeless population and feels the poles are just another way to try to get them in trouble.

Goodwin said he knows the additional surveillance doesn’t sit well with everyone, but said he doesn’t agree with the “conspiracy theorists” who are bothered by “Big Brother.”


“Personally, I think if you’re not a bad person, it’s going to do more good than harm,” he said.


According to Deighton, the LVT spokesperson, the new systems are just an extension of a company’s existing security measures. The poles’ cameras don’t use facial recognition software, he said, and the companies who own them also own the footage.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has argued for years that private surveillance cameras are not only ineffective but threaten the right to privacy.

“At a basic level, you shouldn’t be surveilled and immortalized in video when going about your daily activities,” said Michael Kebede, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine.

Because the cameras are run by private companies, they’re exempt from constitutional privacy guarantees.

While people call government surveillance “Big Brother,” Kebede said private companies are known as “Little Brother.”

And who knows what Little Brother might do with the information it collects in what Kebede calls an “Orwellian robo-cop dystopia.”

“A big part of big tech’s business plan is to amass as much data about us as possible,” he said, and cameras “provide one more funnel through which big tech can vacuum up whatever we’re doing.”

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