SKOWHEGAN — Police hope downtown security cameras installed in 2011 will help catch a thief this week.
Four downtown businesses, including the Skowhegan offices of the Morning Sentinel, were broken into sometime overnight Sunday into early Monday.
Police Officer Ryan Dinsmore said in each case, merchandise and other valuable items such as laptop computers, cellphones and cameras that might be difficult to conceal or to sell later, were passed over. Instead, the burglars were looking for cash, he said.
LaCasse Shoe Repair and the adjoining Trend Setters salon, both on Water Street were targets, as was the children’s clothing store, Kids Friendly, also on Water Street.
Richard LaCasse said the thief or thieves broke a side window at Trend Setters to enter the store, and apparently left through the front door. They then kicked in the glass at LaCasse Shoe Repair.
“There was glass everywhere,” LaCasse said. “They were looking for quick spending money.”
LaCasse said the estimated cost to repair the glass door is $180.
LaCasse said his cash register was damaged, even though the key was in the drawer lock. He said $18 was stolen.
Leah Donoghue, owner of Kids Friendly, said the front door was smashed.
“I had $60 in bills and $20 in coins,” Donoghue said. “They actually took my cash drawer with them. There was a trail of coins falling out. The keys were in the register. All they needed to do was push the button. Instead they mangled it all up and pried it open.”
Donoghue said police found the cash drawer on Water Street. She said an iPad next to the cash register was not taken.
“They did go through drawers and envelopes looking for more cash, I guess,” she said.
A side window in the rear of the Morning Sentinel on Madison Avenue was smashed and desks and file cabinets was rifled. Nothing appeared to have been taken. Thieves entered through the broken window and left using the back door of the building.
Dinsmore said police are using footage from one of 12 video surveillance cameras downtown in an attempt to identify the robber.
“We have a person of interest,” he said.
The cameras have assisted police in investigations including an assault caught on video last year and footage of a getaway car used in the robbery of Stony Brook Market in June 2012.
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.
Jeff Hewitt, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development said the $8,000 for the cameras — including one that is solar-powered — was paid for through 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.
Hewitt said the cameras can be moved if better sites are identified.
Hewett said that any decision to add more cameras will have to be made by selectmen, with recommendations from the Police Department.
“We are looking at a couple more, but it hasn’t gone to selectmen yet so I don’t know what the likelihood of doing it or not is,” Hewett said Monday.
The Board of Selectmen last year agreed to take $1,500 from the TIF fund for routine upgrades and maintenance for the cameras. Hewett said there still is money left in that account for upgrades.
Donoghue agreed that more cameras are needed.
“We need more cameras downtown,” Donoghue said. “There is not one that views any part of my business and I am on the corner of two busy streets. It is such a bummer, too, to happen right after such an awesome weekend for downtown Skowhegan with the parade and activities for the Holiday Stroll. Talk about highs and lows of being a downtown small business owner.”