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.
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.
Steven R. Warfield, 36, of Moscow, also was arrested on a charge of theft by receiving stolen property and a probation hold.
Blais said both cases are under review by the district attorney’s office for possible charges related to the Skowhegan burglary.
“We have a really good idea of how everything went down, however, we’re still gathering all the facts and have a ways to go in the investigation to prove the burglary,” Blais said.
Skowhegan police are still investigating downtown burglaries that occurred in December. Five businesses, including the Morning Sentinel offices, were broken into by thieves looking for cash, police said. 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.
Glass doors and windows were smashed in those burglaries as well. Police hoped the downtown security cameras installed in 2011 would help catch the thieves. A person of interest was identified from video footage, but so far no charges have been brought.
“We’re going to work on how our video cameras are placed,” Blais said. “We may have to adjust the placement a little bit to help deal with these things. It’s unbelievable — we just have so many folks right in the downtown area that are on probation and have drug issues — I think that’s what’s fueling this activity.”