Phoenix resident Brian Clegg alerted New Times to the weird "black box" in an e-mail last week and sent along the photograph seen above. As the picture shows, the device was a gray box with the number "208" and a clear strip near the bottom that may be a window for a camera. Clegg says it also had two oval windows on each side. Clegg also called SRP about it.
He first noticed the device on March 23, after he saw the truck that installed it on a power pole in the alley behind his home in the 2100 block of West Glendale Avenue. Clegg says on that day, he spotted a new-looking, white utility truck with a hydraulic boom and basket attached in the alley. An apparent company name, "Field Pros," was written on the side of the truck. When Clegg, who describes himself as a former utility construction manager, says that when he walked into the alley to find out what the truck was doing, its driver drove away. That's when he noticed the newly installed device high up on the power pole.
Believing it was "dangerously close" to the electric lines, Clegg called SRP to report it. An SRP employee who responded to the call came out when he wasn't home and told his mother the device was "related to the police department" but was not harmful. He would not elaborate. Clegg called Phoenix police, who told him they didn't know anything about it.
"The tech said they don't know who installed it, and it will be given to SRP internal security," Clegg says. "He kept it hidden from sight as he brought it down, and I wasn't able to photograph it."
Phoenix police didn't return a call from New Times about the device. An SRP representative says there are "indications" that the device was installed by a law enforcement agency but that no one had notified SRP about it. He couldn't elaborate on the "indications," he says.
"We do not support or condone anyone attaching anything to our system without our approval or assistance," says SRP spokesman Jeff Lane. "We were not aware that the device had been installed on our pole until we received a call from an SRP customer. At that point, we responded immediately to the customer’s report of this unauthorized attachment. We have more than 100,000 poles in our system, and since we can’t continuously monitor each of our poles; we depend on our partnership with the public to help us identify issues like this."
The box is similar to a surveillance box that Arizona Public Service installed on a power pole in 2014 that got the neighborhood's attention. As Fox 10 News (KSAZ-TV) reported back then, the camera was installed by APS to provide surveillance for a utility employee who had been receiving threats.
But no answers are forthcoming on Clegg's black box. "Field Pros" is not a registered company name in Arizona, and Clegg thinks the truck was sporting a fake business name, "just like you see in the movies. You don't have to be an avid X-Files watcher to see the symbolism."
Clegg says he wonders where the device is now.
"I'd like to see what it is," he says.
Clarification: The story was updated to swap out Clegg's online screen name for his full name.