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LEWISTON — A few clicks of a mouse and a graffiti-covered vent on a downtown rooftop slides into view on the computer screen, silhouetted by the afternoon traffic on Longley Bridge.

Police Lt. Roger Landry clicks again to zoom in until the vent fills the screen. It’s a little fuzzy but clear enough to identify the tagger if he shows up again.

Another couple of clicks and the view changes to the center of Kennedy Park, where a man is walking a dog. Another, and the view goes to the second floor of City Hall. A woman is paying her excise taxes.

The entire downtown is now at the Police Department’s fingertips, just a click away. Five new digital video cameras sit on top of the City Hall clock tower, joining surveillance cameras around the police station, in the Oak Street garage, outside the Central Fire Station and inside City Hall.

A few more clicks and police can see what’s going on at every Lewiston school. The city has 68 cameras in Lewiston High School, including a panoramic digital camera in the center of the cafeteria. All feed directly into the Lewiston Police Department’s desktop computers.

“I don’t know if the cameras are necessary, but they are helpful,” said Lewiston High School Principal Gus LeBlanc. A camera in the school’s parking lot captured the scene Jan. 14 when an SUV traveled down a paved walking path, hitting a student and five other cars.

“It’s set up for that kind of emergency, so police can get an instant idea of exactly what’s going on,” LeBlanc said. “Then, they can go back and look closely and see why it happened.”

Later this month, six more cameras will come online at the Lewiston Public Library. And someday, according to Assistant City Administrator Phil Nadeau, every city building will be under a surveillance camera’s watchful gaze.

“Ten years ago, you could walk into just about any office right off the street,” Nadeau said. “Now, we have windows and waiting rooms. It’s all part of the overall increase in security, and it serves much the same purpose that a security guard once did — except we don’t have to pay the security guard’s salary.”

Police have had closed-circuit security cameras for years, keeping an electronic eye on their interview rooms. Then, in 2003, a Norway man carrying a hammer entered the police parking lot and began vandalizing the cruisers. Officers shot the man when he brandished his hammer in their direction. He later sued the city unsuccessfully.

“I told everyone that some cameras in that lot would have been really nice to have,” Landry said. It would have given the department a clear look at exactly what happened and how, and would have helped settle the suit more quickly.

“And they agreed, and we started putting up more cameras,” Landry said.

In October, the department connected to five digital cameras in the Lewiston City Hall clock tower. They face all four directions, with a fifth focused on the police station entrance, the Kennedy Park pool and the skate park.

“They don’t move, and we keep them fixed on the horizon,” Landry said. “It’s a wide, general view of the city and it’s best for keeping watch. But we can zoom in digitally and pan around. We can zoom in down to license plate level or to get a good general description if that’s what we need.”

The cameras are digital, providing a live feed to every supervisor’s desk, including the watch commander’s. Patrol officers can’t access the feeds — Landry said the department wants them out on the streets, not looking at screens — but a supervisor with access is usually a radio call away.

“Mainly, this provides a view of what has happened,” Landry said. “We don’t have anyone just watching the cameras. But if someone comes in and reports a crime, (the cameras) can help us determine what happened. It’s another witness.”

Landry said the department hopes to bring two portable networked video cameras online later this year. They’d let officers monitor a problem intersection, a hidden graffiti spot or catch an illegal trash dumper in the act.

“We can’t watch all of these cameras, all of the time,” Landry said. “We don’t have the manpower or the money for that. And if we tried to watch all of the cameras we can access, we’d need a building at least the size of the police station just to store all of the monitors.”

The city’s capability was bolstered by the addition of two new computer servers, letting the city store video feeds from each and every camera for up to 45 days. The computer network, covering the City Hall and school cameras, was paid for with a $123,000 Department of Homeland Security grant. Most of the cameras in the Police Department itself are being paid for with money from the department’s drug forfeiture fund.

“Most people feel safer with these cameras in place,” Nadeau said. “There’s a reasonable expectation today that when you go out in public you will be under surveillance most of the time. I think most people understand that, and they support it.”

Auburn City Manager Glenn Aho said his city has cameras in most schools, just like Lewiston. But that city hasn’t embraced surveillance cameras the way Lewiston has.

“We’re more interested in the cameras we can go out and set up,” Aho said.

There are no plans for cameras in Auburn Hall or the library. The camera-like boxes that sit over most intersections in the city are microwave sensors, telling the lights when to change, not cameras recording drivers or their license plates.

Auburn Parks Director Pete Bushway hopes to buy several $6,500 digital still cameras this year. Portable, motion-activated and solar-powered, the cameras are designed to catch vandals and illegal dumpers.

The cameras take snapshots, not video, and city workers have to visit the cameras to get the pictures.

In the case of vandalism, the cameras can be set to announce their presence, warning would-be graffiti taggers that their faces have been captured by the camera.

“We want a deterrent more than anything else,” Bushway said. “In the case of vandals, they usually don’t have a lot of money to make restitution. We’d rather stop the vandalism before it happens.”

Auburn School Superintendent Tom Morrill said cameras are simply part of the School Department’s everyday security, like ID badges and electronic door locks. The department has 40 cameras in Edward Little High School and 16 in Auburn Middle School, in addition to cameras in most of the city’s elementary schools. Police can call up live feeds from those cameras.

“It’s a tool, and a good one,” Morrill said. “It’s been very helpful, calling up video of events that have happened. But it’s really only one thing, and we don’t rely on them. We have officers in the schools and that’s what we count on.”

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