Postal Thefts Jump. Employees are both Victims and Criminals.

Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey
According to the U.S. Postal Service, there were 25,000 “high volume” mail thefts from mailboxes and other receptacles in the first half of fiscal 2023.

If you’ve missed some mail lately, before you blast the U.S. Postal Service you might want to sympathize with the agency and its letter carriers.

The latest Postal Service stats show huge increases in postal thefts. There were 305 thefts from letter carriers in the first six months of fiscal 2023. At that rate, there would be 610 thefts for the whole year and that would be a 48 percent increase over last year’s total of 412.

At the same time, there were 25,000 “high volume” mail thefts from mailboxes and other receptacles in the first half of fiscal 2023. If that rate continues, thefts would total 50,000 this fiscal year, or a 30 percent increase over the 38,500 in all of 2022.

“As crime rises, so do the threats against our public servants,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement releasing the data last week. “The men and women of the Postal Service are walking our nation’s streets every day to fulfill our mission of delivering mail and packages to the American people. Every Postal employee deserves to work in safety and to be free from targeting by criminals seeking to access the public’s mail.”

One reason for the postal theft surge is “the Postal Service’s poor management controls over arrow keys – the keys used by carriers to open collection boxes, parcel lockers, and cluster box units,” Tammy Whitcomb Hull, the Postal Service inspector general, told the House subcommittee on government operations in November. A 2020 audit by her office found USPS policies did not require a master key inventory and the agency did not set a maximum number of keys when ordering replacements and a maximum number of unassigned keys in an inventory.

Here are examples of postal crimes, according to Justice Department documents:

-Myesha Lewis and Kenneth Demosthene, both 22, were charged last week for the armed robbery of arrow keys in Boston. In both cases, they allegedly were armed with a knife, followed letter carriers, then stole the keys by breaking the chains that secured them. “Since July 2022,” the Justice Department said, “there have been at least 13 assaults on USPS letter carriers while in the performance of their official duties in Boston and surrounding cities and towns.”

-Dashaun Brown, 29, of Newark, was sentenced in April to 82 months in prison and ordered to pay $330,391 in restitution for stealing credit cards from the mail. He then stole the victims’ identities to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchases.

-Elhorin Yisreal, 44, was arrested in September for the gunpoint robbery of a Bronx post office. He was accused of waiting outside the facility until a postal worker arrived with her husband. After the employee unlocked the post office door, Yisreal, allegedly wearing a black mask and carrying a firearm, ordered the staffer to open a safe and give him about $100,000, blank money orders and a machine used to print money orders.

“It is the job of the U.S. Postal Service to protect the safety of letter carriers as they serve their communities as per the U.S. Constitution, providing service to residents and businesses on a daily basis,” said Paul Barner, the executive vice president of National Association of Letter Carriers. “The fear and the danger that letter carriers are confronting has to end.”

So do crimes they commit. Sometimes postal workers are the criminals. According to the Justice Department:

-Davey Hines, 30, of Naperville, Ill., was sentenced to nine years in prison as the “ringleader” of 10 other people, including postal staffers, in the theft of credit cards from the mail, then buying items with them. “The investigation identified USPS employees who stole credit cards and other financial instruments and provided them to Hines and others in exchange for cash or other items of value,” the Justice Department reported. “Over the course of the 19-month conspiracy, Hines and his co-conspirators stole more than 657 credit cards and made more than $462,719 in fraudulent purchases.”

-Diana K. Molyneux, a former express mail clerk, was found guilty this month of destroying immigration mail at a Salt Lake City processing facility. She “was captured on camera digging through areas of pre-sorted mail … setting aside priority immigration mail, which was never returned to its proper location for dispatch,” the DOJ said. Surveillance caught her burying “six pieces of priority immigration mail deep in a shred bin that is used to destroy and recycle undeliverable bulk mail.” Because the immigration documents included green cards and work permits, some people lost their jobs or were unable to renew driver’s licenses, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.

-Toya Toshell Hunter, 45, a former mail carrier in South Los Angeles, received a 15-month prison term last month for stealing government-issued debit cards for unemployment insurance and federal coronavirus relief mailed to residents on her route. She was ordered to pay $206,212 in restitution.

These examples of crooks in postal uniforms do not overshadow the many more carriers who complete their rounds with the honesty the job commands. Some go well beyond that. Last week, the National Association of Letter Carriers honored their “Heroes of the Year” for “special acts of courage and compassion.” Christine Cambizaca, of Torrington, Conn., took top honors as the 2022 National Hero of the Year. A union statement said Cambizaca was just a month on the job when she “risked her own safety by protecting a bloodied and bruised woman, too frightened to speak, from a knife-wielding attacker.”

The Postal Service and the Postal Inspection Service said they are expanding their crime prevention efforts to deal with escalating threats. Those measures include installing 12,000 high-security blue mailboxes nationwide in high-risk areas. The Postal Service also will replace “49,000 antiquated arrow locks” with electronic devices.

“We’re doubling down on our efforts to protect our Postal employees and the security of the mail,” Postal Inspection Service Chief Gary Barksdale said. “We are hardening targets – both physical and digital – to make them less desirable to thieves and working with our law enforcement partners to bring perpetrators to justice.”