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Mail Theft and Crimes Against Postal Workers Rising

As the 2024 election looms, how secure are mail-in ballots?

By:  |  May 29, 2024  |    849 Words
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(Photo by: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Since 2020, there has been a major spike in mail crimes. From thefts to assaults on mail carriers, this pervasive wave of criminality shows few signs of abating. Keen observers may note that this growing problem had its birth alongside the COVID pandemic, which saw the US Postal Service replace its police force, the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and restricting it from guarding offsite properties like homes and businesses. As the November election approaches – and with it the use of absentee ballots – people are understandably concerned about mail security.

Mail Crimes

Postal carrier robberies increased 30% just last year, and crimes resulting in injuries doubled, according to a Freedom of Information Act requested by the Associated Press and provided by USPIS. Taking a broader look at the issue, these robberies now occur six times as often as they did ten years ago, and the number of mail carriers robbed at gunpoint has soared even higher. To put it in perspective, there were fewer than 60,000 complaints of mail theft in 2018 – but more than 250,000 in 2023.

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(Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The soft-on-crime approach by the postal service is partially to blame for the increase in lawbreaking, according to some. Frank Albergo, head of the Postal Service Police Association, told News 5 in 2021: “The postal service, inexplicably … defunded their own police force.” And as we have seen in blue states across the nation, defunding the police has led to more crime, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is true for the post office as well.

It also doesn’t help that crimes against mail carriers don’t carry as much weight as they used to. Postal workers are federal employees and offenses against them used to result in more severe punishment as a federal crime. However, in February, a federal district court gave just a 30-day sentence to a person who had been found guilty of armed robbery of a USPS carrier in San Francisco, CA. In March, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement:

“This sends a concerning message of encouragement to our nation’s criminals and a message of disregard to our loyal public servants, who deserve better protection and reassurance that the law will take crimes against them seriously. America’s postal workers are entitled to feel protected as they go about their public service mission, and at a minimum should be able to take solace in knowing that the law protects them against crime as they perform their duties, and that any such crimes will be taken seriously by the courts.”

Restricting USPIS is only part of the problem, though. Mail carriers are targets because they deliver checks and prescription drugs and carry antiquated “arrow keys,” which are used for groups of multiple mailboxes, such as those used in apartment and condo complexes. Items that can’t fit in the regular mailbox are placed in a larger container that the arrow key can open. But carrier robberies aren’t the only way these keys are being lost; in many cases, it’s an inside job.

CBS News investigated and found some disturbing issues. For one, those in charge are not tracking or making sure the keys are secured. After reviewing audits of 84 postal facilities between 2019 and 2024, investigators found 76 facilities where the inspectors didn’t track or secure the keys across 25 states. “As of last month, inspectors found arrow key security issues at 10 of the 12 facilities inspected so far this year, including postal sites in California, Texas, Minnesota and Maryland,” the outlet reported. To make matters worse, “The inspector general also said the Postal Service does not have a national inventory of keys, does not know how many exist or how many are missing, stolen or broken. When asked how many keys are in circulation, agency leaders told the inspector general that they did not know – estimating only ‘in the millions.’”

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(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

There are a growing number of court cases against postal employees for stealing and selling the keys. In 2023, a sting was set up, and a postal worker was busted for trying to sell an arrow key and a half-million dollars in stolen checks to an undercover agent. Evidently, selling these keys is quite common and can be profitable. “Arrow keys can start at $1,000 and can get up to $7,000,” according to criminology professor David Maimon of Georgia State University.

Mail theft is especially concerning as we head into the 2024 presidential election. The US Election Assistance Commission released a report that showed voting by mail has been rising over the years. About a quarter of voters used an absentee ballot during the 2016 and 2018 elections, but in 2020, that jumped to more than 43%.

Last year, the USPS created Project Safe Delivery, a crime-prevention effort that focuses on protecting mail carriers and replacing arrow keys with electronic locks. Congress is also considering legislation that would boost penalties for offenses and possibly provide federal aid to help pay for the expensive upgrade to finally eliminate arrow keys.

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