By Joel Warner
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By Patricia Calhoun
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When the elevator doors close at the State Capitol, paranoia can set in. The first thing a patron sees is this ominous sign: "This Area Now Under Camera Surveillance...Vandals Will Be Prosecuted." In an upper corner of the elevator hangs a camera.
Please take a closer look. And relax--unless you are a vandal, in which case, please stop reading this story right now.
A label identifies the camera as a Panasonic, but it's old and gray, smudged and taped up. An ancient model, it looks more like a plastic loaf of bread. No lights, not even a faint whirring noise. A tap on its side produces a hollow sound. A tattered black wire runs from it to the elevator ceiling.
The "cameras" were installed last December, after vandals carved letters and other scratches into the newly remodeled brass doors of the building's two elevators.
When asked the make and model of the cameras, Frank Lombardi, who works in the Capitol Complex Facilities Management office, giggles and says, "Well, you know they're dummies."
Most of the people who work at the Capitol building aren't.
"There's been a lot of joking and speculation about those cameras," says Danielle Radovich, a receptionist for the Senate Democrats. Like many of her colleagues at the Capitol, Radovich is reluctant to admit that the cameras are fake. She will say, however, that she has "never seen any tapes from them."
Chuck Henning, communications director for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, says that when the cameras were first placed in the elevators, "it was our supposition that they were dummies. People riding in the elevators made a lot of jokes about them." However, after letting that slip, he pauses a second and adds, "We thought they were replaced with the real thing later on."
For many, the fake cameras have remained a capitol secret.
Volunteer tour guide John David says he has never heard anyone joke about the cameras in the elevators. Fellow tour guide Mike Mawhinney says, "Well, the cameras are not very modern, but they work well."
During a walking tour of the building, David pauses briefly in front of a first-floor portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. He relates sadly how the painting had to be restored a year ago after someone launched an ink-laden spitwad at it. "Luckily, we don't have too much vandalism," he says. "We have cameras all over the place."
Six cameras to be exact, according to Don Smith, the state patrol unit supervisor who organizes security for the building. Inside Smith's office, one six-inch black-and-white television flashes pictures from the cameras placed around the building. When asked why the cameras in the two elevators don't also transmit to that same television, Smith explains that somewhere there is a second monitoring room. "I could show you, but I won't," he says. In fact, Smith has nothing to say about the cameras in the elevators. "If I did," he says, "our security would go down the toilet!"
What he will do is reiterate that the cameras were placed in the elevators late last year. And, thanks to the cameras and some plastic covering over the brass, there's been no vandalism since.
Which makes volunteers like John David happy. "We hope there won't be any more problems--security keeps track of everyone who comes and goes," he says as he glances up at a small, rotating camera behind the information desk. "Smile for the camera," he says to three wandering German tourists who await the beginning of the next tour. "They're watching you!"
And that camera really works.