Crimes Targeting Mail Carriers Are on the Rise, and USPS Is Taking New Steps to Confront Them
Rates of robberies and other mail-related crimes are on pace to far exceed those experienced in 2022.
The U.S. Postal Service is taking new steps it said will better protect its employees amid a spike in crime targeting letter carriers and mail.
There have been 305 reported incidents of letter carriers robbed on the job in the first half of fiscal 2023, according to USPS statistics, putting the agency on pace to well surpass the 412 incidents recorded in all of fiscal 2022. There have been 25,000 cases of theft from blue collection boxes this fiscal year, also a significantly higher pace than the 38,500 cases in fiscal 2022. The Postal Service declined to make the data available for additional years.
To confront the problem, USPS is releasing 12,000 “high security” boxes in high-risk areas around the country. The boxes are hardened to make access more difficult for criminals.
It is also replacing the universal keys that give letter carriers access to collection boxes, cluster boxes and apartment panels—known as “arrow” keys—with an electronic alternative. Thieves have been increasingly targeting letter carriers for the keys to steal items from mail receptacles. USPS plans to replace 49,000 “antiquated” arrow keys with electronic locks in “major metropolitan areas,” which it said will make theft less valuable.
“Every postal employee deserves to work in safety and to be free from targeting by criminals seeking to access the public’s mail,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said.
Postal Inspection Service Chief Gary Barksdale added the agency was hardening targets to make robberies less attractive.
“We’re doubling down on our efforts to protect our [postal] employees and the security of the mail,” Barksdale said.
The USPS inspector general in a 2021 report said that between March 2020 and February 2021, complaints of mail theft had skyrocketed by 161% compared to the same period in the previous year. The IG previously reported the agency's arrow key management was ineffective as it did not know how many keys were in circulation, and lost or stolen keys went unreported. The IG suggested postal management consider new technology such as electronic keypads for locked mail and collection boxes.
Many members of Congress have sounded the alarm on rising mail-related crime. USPS and the Postal Inspection Service briefed lawmakers on the agency's new policies on Thursday.
The Postal Service is also tightening controls of change of address requests, which it said has been ripe with fraud in recent years. It will no longer accept third-party requests and customers seeking a change of address will need to verify their requests at their old and new locations.
At an event in Washington Thursday, National Association of Letter Carriers Executive Vice President Paul Barner said crime targeted at his members was the top issue he wanted to confront and pledged to work with postal management to address it.
Postal Police officers, who serve as part of the Postal Inspection Service, have criticized leadership for taking them off patrol. The union representing the officers has said that prior to a 2020 change, the inspection service had regularly conducted community policing patrols to ensure the safety of letter carriers and other Postal Service personnel. USPS has said it was merely formalizing longstanding policy and the officers were not properly trained or equipped for the patrols. Instead, management has said the officers should serve as security guards at a limited number of facilities.
Postal Police currently has less than 350 officers, which is down 27% since the start of fiscal 2021, according to Postal Police Officers Association President Frank Albergo. Decades ago, the force was made up of 2,700 officers. Currently, the entire Postal Inspection Service has around 2,400 employees.