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Letter Carriers and Your Mail Became Theft Targets After Prop 47 – Pacific Research Institute

Letter Carriers and Your Mail Became Theft Targets After Prop 47

California 25717425182 2c01c8d764 o fresno

During the COVID-19 pandemic, thieves who are seizing the criminal opportunity of Prop 47 found many of their retail victims out of business and those still in business have hardened their stores through enhanced security measures that make theft, particularly of high value items, more challenging and less lucrative.  In response, they have adapted their modus operandi to target the U.S. Postal Service whose letter carriers deliver 7.2 billion packages and an incredible 50 billion first class letters annually.

There may be no more venerable American institution than the U.S. Postal Service.  Founded by the Continental Congress in 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General before there was even a United States.

While e-mail and commercial package delivery has cut deeply into the Postal Services market share, I have yet to find a child in America who sends a letter to Santa via e-mail. And who doesn’t hope that on birthdays and holidays there will be a greeting card or letter that arrives in the mail from a friend or a loved one rather than an e-card, however creative it may be.

It is more than just holidays and nostalgia. For many, the Post Office is a vital business and financial link to the rest of the world. While routine payments often arrive in our banks electronically, many financial instruments are still sent and delivered via the mail.

That mail is delivered by letter carriers who remain the vanguard of the over 500,000 employees of the Postal Service and it is they, who over the last five years, have become the most victimized.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, thieves who are seizing the criminal opportunity of Prop 47 found many of their retail victims out of business and those still in business have hardened their stores through enhanced security measures that make theft, particularly of high value items, more challenging and less lucrative.  In response, they have adapted their modus operandi to target the U.S. Postal Service whose letter carriers deliver 7.2 billion packages and an incredible 50 billion first class letters annually.

And these letter carriers are victimized most often because of one thing: their Arrow Key.

Arrow Keys are used to open the cumbersomely titled Neighborhood Distribution Collection Box Units as well as the blue mailboxes you find on the street. They are locally keyed so that, for example, an Arrow Key stolen in San Francisco will not work in San Jose. It should also serve as a warning: Arrow Keys stolen from a letter carrier in your neighborhood means thieves may soon be targeting your local mail.

Since 2018 the number of robberies of letter carriers has increased dramatically. In 2019 there were 94 robberies of letter carriers on their routes and by the end of 2022 the number had increased to 423 – an increase of 353 percent. Official 2023 statistics are not yet available but News 6 in Orlando Florida reports that in 2023, there were 643 robberies of letter carriers indicating a five year increase of 584 percent.

Edward Fletcher, a letter carrier who’s worked for the United States Postal Service since 1985, told SFGATE:

“Ever since the world shut down in 2020, thieves armed with knives, guns and pepper spray have begun attacking letter carriers and grabbing their master keys, which grants them access to clusters of blue mailboxes on the street.”

SFGATE reports that Bay Area USPS workers — many of whom already work unmerciful schedules for shockingly low pay — are rallying for safer conditions or leaving the department entirely.

There is also a secondary market on dark web sites like Telegram for stolen Arrow Keys, as well as your checks, tax refunds, and debit cards.  According to postal inspectors, the same individuals who steal the keys are not always the same individuals later found to be passing stolen checks and debit cards, indicating that criminal syndicates are organizing the robberies, subsequent mail thefts, and the financial frauds.

Even more concerning, judges and even federal prosecutors may not fully appreciate the scope of the problem or the lives at stake.

Last March, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco sentenced Leroy Wise to just 30 days in jail for holding a gun to the head of a San Francisco letter carrier and robbing them of their wallet, cell phone, as well as U.S. Mail.  Mr. Wise has a compelling back story of disadvantage and resulting criminal history, yet despite prior successful attempts at rehabilitation, chose to arm himself with a handgun and point that gun at a victim.  A situation where little more than a few pounds of pressure on a trigger could have resulted in far worse consequences.

The federal prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Garber, asked for a sentence of just 28 months – less than half of the 57-month minimum recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines. The maximum sentence for robbery of a letter carrier is 10 years.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an increasing number of Americans have given up on reporting crimes to the police. Given the Wise case, we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Postal Inspector Matthew Norfleet and the United States Postal Inspectors hope we won’t.   He reports that the U.S. Postal Inspectors Service have launched the Project Safe Delivery Initiative and steps have been taken to protect the mail-stream. Over 15,000 blue collection boxes have been replaced with a new high-security blue collection box and 28,000 antiquated arrow locks have been replaced with electronic mechanisms including two-factor with “more to come.” This year so far, over 1,200 arrests have been made for robberies and mail theft.

Anyone can contact postal inspectors 24 hours a day to report information related to postal crimes at 877-876-2455. Perhaps the reform of Prop 47 and the compounding bad policies that followed close after will make our neighborhoods safer.

Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute, and the author of the recent PRI study on California’s growing crime problem, “Paradise Lost.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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