February 5

Skowhegan jewelry theft highlights questions about downtown cameras

Town officials plan to discuss whether more cameras are needed, or whether cameras should be moved to different locations.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — A recent burglary and theft of thousands of dollars in jewelry from a downtown store is raising questions about the effectiveness and location of downtown surveillance cameras.

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Steven Warfield

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James Williams

Thieves smashed the glass door early Friday morning on the Commercial Street side of Russakoff Jewelers, according to police. Once inside the store, burglars smashed glass display cases and made off with as much as $10,000 in watches, rings and other jewelry.

Activity was caught on two of the 14 downtown cameras, but did not catch the burglary itself, Police Chief Ted Blais said Wednesday. He said images recorded the general appearance of two men who were in the area, but did not show them smashing the door.

“The camera doesn’t face right at the Russakoff’s back door — the images are good enough to see their clothing, what they were carrying and where they went,” Blais said. “There was more than one camera — one of them is right on the Chamber of Commerce building. They’re good images to a point — they’re still far away shots.”

Andrew Russakoff, whose family has owned the jewelry store in downtown Skowhegan for many years, said he wants the downtown cameras to do what they are supposed to do — tell police what’s going on.

“In my kind of a business, we’re hoping people are going to come in and want be in an area like this and want to shop in an area like this,” Russakoff said. “I want people to know that downtown Skowhegan is getting increasingly more active in participating and trying to avoid this sort of thing. I want them to know that downtown Skowhegan is a friendly place to shop and that we have law enforcement that are working hard to keep this a safe place to be.”

Jeff Hewitt, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development managed the installation of the cameras, and said meetings have been scheduled to discuss possibly upgrading the power and scope of them.

“We are hoping next week to have a discussion on possibly moving some of the cameras and increasing the number of cameras,” Hewitt said. “I don’t know if it’s something we can do or not yet — it is being discussed. Is it something the police are going to put some money in, and it may come from different departments because we may be using them for different reasons.”

Two cameras were installed initially at the Renaissance Building on Water Street where thieves in July 2011 cut through three doors, a padlocked gate and a sheetrock wall to steal merchandise from a rafting supply store. The rest of the cameras went up in the weeks that followed, and two more also were installed along the nature trail on the south side of the Kennebec River.

The $8,000 for the cameras — including one that is solar-powered — came from a Community Development Block Grant.

The $19,000 price tag for the entire system, including a split-screen monitor providing a live feed into the conference room at the police station, was paid for using money from the downtown tax increment finance, or TIF, district, Hewett said.

There are cameras on the Chamber of Commerce building in the municipal parking lot, at Aubuchon Hardware, on Madison Avenue and locations on Water Street.

Russakoff’s also has an entrance on Water Street, which was not damaged.

Hours after the Friday break-in at Russakoff’s, police in Waterville detained two men who allegedly were trying to sell items believed to have been stolen from Russakoff’s, Blais said.

James A. Williams, 32, of McClellan Street, Skowhegan, was arrested by Waterville police on charges of possession of prescription drugs and falsifying physical evidence in an unrelated case. Williams was turned over to Skowhegan police and was charged with theft by receiving stolen property and a probation hold.

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