SF supervisor enters fight between city and PG&E over gunfire detectors

A private spat between San Francisco and PG&E over crime-response technology and the utility's infrastructure is about to go public.

Supervisor David Campos plans to chastise PG&E — which provides gas and electricity to millions of Northern California residents and businesses — for delaying the installation of gunshot detectors on the utility's poles because of a disagreement over a small fee. And the fee is apparently something PG&E has no control over.

The pole-top devices enable police to respond within minutes to the scene where a gunshot was detected.

Campos hopes the resolution he plans to introduce today at the Board of Supervisors meeting cajoles PG&E into at least reducing the fee.

“Gunshot-tracking technology has been critical in the Mission in the police's efforts to respond to violent crime. Expanding this successful program will improve public safety in our city,” Campos told The San Francisco Examiner on Monday. “While some might say that we should just give up quietly and find alternatives to using the PG&E poles, I'm not willing to let PG&E off the hook just yet. They have held up this expansion for over a year, and our city deserves to be safe.”

But those efforts could prove fruitless, as PG&E said Monday that the decision over fees is out of its hands because the California Public Utilities Commission requires the company “to recover those costs from The City.”

The CPUC did not return requests for comment Monday.

In 2008, the Police Department started using ShotSpotter to help respond to gunfire quicker. Soon afterward, the department was given the go-ahead to expand the program. While there was some difficulty finding the best locations, installation spots were not paramount in The City's mind, according to Campos' office.

By the end of last year, most of the 146 new devices had been installed on schools and locations operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

But holes in the network remain, according to Campos' office, and filling those holes have one hurdle: PG&E.

Before the current negotiations, The City and ShotSpotter were putting up the devices without informing PG&E, which the utility said could have been a danger.

To put up the remaining devices, The City needs to use PG&E's utility poles. But the utility refused, saying it needed to recoup the cost of aiding in the installation efforts. PG&E, which doesn't directly participate in the installation, does use company time and engineers to make sure the locations are appropriate and the poles are safe.

Thirty-five ShotSpotters remain to be installed.

The utility has been working with The City to come to an agreement on putting up the devices, but can't act until the fees are paid, PG&E spokesman Jason King said.

PG&E needs $1,500 a pole.

“We are thrilled to partner with The City to enhance public safety,” King said. “The $1,500 is a great bargain for the work that goes into this project, and we'll continue to work with [The City] so they can get these installed as quickly as possible.”

San Francisco and SST, the company that manufactures ShotSpotter, must pay upfront before installing the final devices, King said.

“Any delay on getting them up is on The City's side right now,” King said.

Newark-based SST did not return calls for comment Monday.

PG&E maintains that the fees, except for a few exceptions, are the same for every public agency in the utility's coverage area.

The Police Department would only say that completing the expansion is underway. Where that expansion is taking place specifically was not divulged other than the neighborhoods: Bayview-Hunters Point, the Western Addition and the Mission.

Correction: This story was updated Sept. 10 to remove a sentence that incorrectly stated that police do not know how many ShotSpotter devices are installed throughout San Francisco.

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