Postmen are sounding the alarm over the upsurge in thefts

One day in November, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier was traveling his route in Brooklyn, New York, when he suddenly found himself in a heartbreaking situation.

As he was opening a mail storage box, a man rushed in and attempted to steal his arrow key, according to the New York Police Department and an internal Postal Service alert. The keys, which are used to unlock mail collection boxes, are highly coveted by criminals looking to steal mail.

The two men clashed, but the assailant managed to get away with the key, police said.

The postman went after him, but the pursuit did not last long. The suspect drew a gun and opened fire – the bullet passing the postman, police said.

“It’s crazy that things like this happen,” said John Cruz, president of the local letter carriers union. “We need more protection there.”

The Brooklyn incident was extreme, but it was not an aberration. Across the country, criminals are increasingly targeting letter carriers.

Between 2018 and 2021, letter carrier thefts more than tripled and gun thefts more than quadrupled, according to US Postal Inspection Service data obtained through a public records request.

The number of letter carrier robberies across the country rose from 80 in 2018 to 261 in 2021. The number of armed robberies rose from 36 in 2018 to 154 in 2021, the data showed.

The crime wave shows no signs of abating. Both crime categories are on track to surpass last year’s numbers in 2022.

The Postal Service referred the questions to the Postal Inspection Service, which investigates letter carrier thefts with local police departments.

In a statement to NBC News, the Inspection Service said the surge in letter carrier thefts is likely fueled by several factors, including the economic impact of the Covid crisis, growth in USPS package volume amid the rise of e-commerce and government mailing. controls related to pandemic assistance programs.

“The Postal Inspection Service is engaged on multiple fronts with various partners to combat theft and prosecute these criminals,” the statement said.

In early March, the Postal Inspection Service issued an advisory on “significant increase in armed robbery against US Postal Service mail carriers”.

“The primary motive for these thefts is illegal financial gain,” the notice said. “Nowadays, with the dark web and organized crime encouraging these illegal activities, theft and mail theft are becoming more and more attractive to criminals.”

The increase in carrier thefts came at a time when many parts of the country have seen a sharp rise in murders and other violent crimes. Robberies, however, declined in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report.

Reports of mail theft have risen sharply in recent years. According to the USPS Office of Inspector General, the Postal Inspection Service received more than 299,000 complaints of mail theft from March 2020 to February 2021, an increase of 184,500 complaints (161%) over at the same period the previous year.

Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officers Association, said he believes sidelining Postal Police officers is contributing to the rise in letter carrier thefts.

Postal Police officers were ordered to stop patrolling city streets in August 2020. A Postal Inspection Service memo released at the time said officers would be restricted to working on the property of the post office.

“We were doing the work. We were protecting the postmen,” Albergo said. “And then all of a sudden they decided it wasn’t a good use for Postal Police officers. It made no sense. And here is the consequence: they have an epidemic of mail theft on their hands. »

The Postal Inspection Service did not provide a specific response to Albergo’s claim, but said the jurisdiction of Postal Police officers “is limited to Postal Service real estate.”

“Thus, the primary role of [postal police officers] is to ensure the physical security of Postal Service assets at their assigned workplaces,” the statement added.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Letter Carriers Association, said any trend that poses risks or threats to their wellbeing is “disturbing”.

“We will continue to work with Postal Service officials and the Postal Inspection Service to take all necessary steps to prevent crimes against mail carriers and to improve their safety at work,” Rolando said.

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