With mail theft and robberies of mail carriers on the rise, law enforcement officials have made more than 600 arrests since May in a campaign launched to crack down on the crime that includes assaulting mail carriers at gunpoint to get their old public keys, the Postal Service announced Wednesday.
Criminals steal mail and target carriers’ so-called “stock keys” to gain access to mailboxes.
Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said: “We will continue to increase pressure and put potential perpetrators on notice: If you attack postal staff, or if you steal mail or commit other postal offences, postal inspectors will bring you to justice.” told reporters on Wednesday.
The Postal Service’s announcement Wednesday came against the backdrop of rallies organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers to demand better protections for carriers and harsh punishment for criminals who steal from them. They have been held across the country in recent months, including Tuesday in Denver and another Wednesday in Houston.
“Mail carriers have to keep their heads on a swivel. They have to take precautions to be more vigilant about their surroundings,” Rick Byrne, president of the Colorado State Association of Letter Carriers, said Wednesday.
Letter carriers are on edge after nearly 500 of them were stolen last year. Criminals are increasingly targeting the mail to commit financial crimes such as altering checks to obtain money.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement that it is important to protect “the sanctity of the nation’s mail” but his top priority is the safety of those who deliver it.
In order to reduce burglaries, the Postal Service is replacing tens of thousands of mail carrier public keys that criminals seeking to steal mail seek to commit check fraud, officials said. So far, 6,500 keys have been replaced with electronic locks in select cities, and another 42,500 keys are scheduled to be deployed, officials said. The Postal Service declined to say how many arrow keys the service has.
To prevent mail theft, the Postal Service also deployed more than 10,000 high-security blue boxes in high-risk locations to prevent people from breaking into them.
The Postal Service also implemented changes that reduced fraudulent change-of-address transactions by 99.3% over the past fiscal year, and reduced counterfeit postage by 50% as well, officials said.
The Postal Service is touting its successes after a critical report from its oversight body, the Office of Inspector General. Released late last month, it blamed management for a lack of “actionable milestones,” responsibility for hiring, training, and updating carriers’ global switches.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is leading the effort with other internal units and external law enforcement agencies. Early efforts focused on organized mail crime in Chicago, San Francisco, and several cities across Ohio.
Of the more than 600 people arrested since May as part of “Operation Safe Delivery,” more than 100 were for burglaries while more than 530 were for mail theft, officials told reporters Wednesday.
The penalty is severe for interfering with the mail.
Theft alone can be punished by up to five years in prison; Possession or disposition of postal property is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. Assaulting a postman can also result in a 10-year prison sentence for a first-time offense. Repeat offenders can get 25 years for assault.
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