SKOWHEGAN — A video screen at the police station shows images of three people walking along Water Street in downtown Skowhegan shortly after midnight in late November.
Suddenly there is a scuffle. A man is struck by a woman he allegedly had been harassing. He then strikes back, knocking the woman to the sidewalk.
The incident is all on digital video from one of a dozen security cameras installed in the downtown business district last December after a string of burglaries downtown during the summer of 2011.
The woman later calls police to report the assault, and the man, Duane Clukey, 24, of Madison, is arrested on a charge of domestic-violence assault two days after the Nov. 24 incident.
Newell Graf, vice chairman of the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen, said the 12 cameras are living up to expectations.
“In talking with the (police) department, the cameras have helped identify people and have been very helpful in solving some crimes in the community,” Graf said. “I think they’ve done what we intended.
“I would have to think they would also act as a deterrent, since it’s been publicized that we have them.”
Jeff Hewitt, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development, who is coordinating the project, agreed.
“In the few cases where there has been some vandalism, we’ve known who’s done it and we’ve been able to go to the police about it and they’ve taken care of it,” Hewitt said. “The times they are being used are when something has happened and you’re actually able to go back and see what has happened in those areas. It’s been very valuable to them.”
Video footage from downtown cameras also has helped police investigate the robbery of Stony Brook Market on U.S. Route 2 in June. Interim Police Chief Daniel Summers said the case is in the hands of the district attorney and could be brought to a grand jury this month. He said the cameras are helping to disprove claims by witnesses and suspects about their whereabouts on the night of the robbery.
“The video system is going to be paramount in this case; it’s going to be an anchor to the case,” Summers said. “There is always a question of alibi — well, we know exactly where a certain vehicle was at a given time, and it’s going to be a real nexus in this case.”
Two cameras were installed at the renaissance Building, where thieves in July 2011 cut through three doors, a padlocked gate and a sheetrock wall and made off with merchandise from a rafting supply store.
The $19,000 price tag for the system, with a split-screen monitor providing a live feed into the conference room at the police station, was paid for using funding for the downtown tax-increment finance, or TIF, district, according to Hewitt.
There are cameras on the Chamber of Commerce building, at Aubuchon Hardware and on Madison Avenue and Water Street.
Hewitt said the cameras can be moved from their initial locations if better sites are identified, but so far none has been moved.
Two more cameras were installed later along the new river walk trail on the south side of the Kennebec River.
Hewitt said the $8,000 for those cameras — including one with a solar collecting device — was paid for through a Community Development Block Grant.
The Board of Selectmen recently released $1,500 from the TIF fund for routine upgrades and maintenance for the cameras, Hewitt said.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367