DAYTON — UPDATE NOV. 23:
We have an update to our I-Team investigation into the disturbing number of attacks on U.S. Postal Service mail carriers we uncovered.
In our initial report, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown told the I-Team that the U.S. Postmaster General and the USPS Office of Inspector General each ignored a letter he sent to them last month asking them to address the issues of letter carrier assaults and mail theft.
Today, the Inspector General’s office reached out to News Center 7 and said they have been in touch with Brown’s staff since shortly after he sent the letter.
News Center 7 reached out to Senator Brown’s office to ask them to clarify whether the original release they sent us was accurate.
Brown’s office said the Inspector General’s office did acknowledge receipt of the letter but said they still have not received a response from the Postmaster General.
>> Related Story: Dayton and Trotwood USPS letter carrier robberies
INITIAL REPORT NOV. 22 :
Your money and your identity are all up for grabs when criminals get a hold of your mail. And they’re now attacking U.S. Postal Service mail carriers in broad daylight to get it and commit identity theft on a massive scale.
The News Center 7 I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, uncovered disturbing numbers of attacks on mail carriers here in Ohio and the reason those postal carriers are being targeted. Plus, he dug into the controversy surrounding how to stop these crimes.
The union representing the law enforcement officers who protect post office facilities argues a rash of recent attacks on USPS letter carriers around the country and here in the Miami Valley could be prevented if they were allowed to patrol. Postal police officers tell the I-Team they used to be allowed to patrol to be able to stop thefts and assaults like these from happening. But they add, they were “benched” from that role a few years ago and can now only perform law enforcement duties inside post offices and USPS property.
Most robbers who attack U.S. Postal carriers are after the same thing: they’re called arrow keys. Master keys that open big blue drop mailboxes you see outside post offices, among other places, and cluster mailboxes in neighborhoods and apartment complexes. Unlocking those kinds of mailboxes gives criminals access to hundreds of pieces of mail in one place.
The victims in these robberies are not just mail carriers, it’s you. Thieves are after your money and your identity.
The increase in mail theft has affected all kinds of people around the Miami Valley and across the country, like small business owner Jim McGee who owns Piedmont Stairworks. The company makes staircases for homes.
McGee told us he relies on a lot of suppliers for his business which means they write a lot of big checks. He said he always mailed checks in blue drop boxes outside his local post office to be extra careful. But thieves stole a batch of his checks one day last year. In all, 25 checks worth a total of $138,000. “For a small business to have that much money disappear – that was a big deal to us,” McGee said.
>> Related Story: Washington Twp. USPS letter carrier robbery
McGee’s case was part of a bigger one. Federal prosecutors say someone robbed a postal worker at gunpoint and then three suspects used the stolen arrow key to open mailboxes across the Charlotte-area for almost a year. In all, they wound up stealing 86 checks worth more than $3 million. A federal judge sent the three defendants to prison.
The I-Team filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get a hold of data on mail carrier attacks and found that between January 2019 through June 2022, there have been more than 2,600 U.S. Postal Service mail carriers attacked. At least 93 of those assaults happened here in Ohio during that timeframe. And in all those attacks nationwide, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) records the I-Team obtained show criminals stole at least 170 arrow keys.
“It’s at epidemic proportions,” said Frank Albergo, the president of the Postal Police Officers Association, the union representing law enforcement officers responsible for protecting post offices. “It has spiraled out of control. Arrow keys are being circulated through a crime syndicate. They rob the carriers, they get the keys, and now they get tons of mail. And then, they really start going to town on washing checks,” Albergo said.
Albergo told the I-Team Ohio is a hot bed for mail carrier attacks. “Ohio is a mess – carriers are being robbed at least once a week, probably more,” Albergo said. “There’s certain hotspots where this is run amuck.”
News Center 7 has covered three USPS letter carrier assaults in the Miami Valley since late April. Criminals robbed letter carriers for their arrow keys in Washington Township, Dayton, and Trotwood in separate incidents earlier this year.
WHIO has also covered recent mail thefts in the Miami Valley, including when Kettering police arrested three suspects during traffic stop in October. Kettering officers said they recovered stolen mail, checks, and cash after searching the car the trio was in earlier this fall.
“It’s a brazen crime,” Postal Inspector Rick Johnsten with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service told the I-Team of mail thefts and assaults on USPS employees. Johnsten says the Postal Service is working on new policies and procedures to prevent attacks on its letter carriers but adds it would be difficult to guard all of them on their routes.
“We deliver to 150,000,000 addresses per day,” Johnsten said. “My agency isn’t nearly big enough if we want to investigate and also watch the mail carriers at the same time. So we have to prioritize.”
>> Related Story: Kettering Body Cam Mail Theft Traffic Stop
The USPIS maintains they are working to protect mail carriers and your mail. “The volume is higher than we would like to see,” Johnsten said. “And we’re investigating those cases. But overall, it is really low statistically based on the amount of carriers that we do have and the amount of robberies that happen.”
But Albergo counters that the trained law enforcement officers who are best equipped to help are being ordered to stand down.
“In August 2020, the (Postal) Inspection Service released an internal memo which basically grounded us,” Albergo told the I-Team. “It benched us. We were no longer able to protect postal workers and we were no longer able to do these proactive mail theft prevention patrols. And since then mail theft has exploded. We (as Postal Police Officers) specialize in mail theft prevention and the protection of postal workers, especially letter carriers. Well, that’s what we used to do. Now, we are confined to postal property. So we’re confined to postal facilities in the middle of a mail theft epidemic. … It’s an easy crime to prevent. It’s called postal police officers. I mean, can we stop it completely? No. Can we stop it from escalating in a given area? 100%, yes.”
The I-Team reached out to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency that investigates the crimes of mail theft and letter carrier assaults, about Albergo’s comments.
In a statement, the USPIS told us, “Postal Police Officers (”PPOs”) do not investigate mail theft. PPOs are the uniformed security force of the Postal Service and play an important role in the protection of employees, assets and mail on Postal Service property. PPOs are armed, wear uniforms, and use clearly marked vehicles to deter crime and provide physical security at Postal Service facilities. By law, the jurisdiction of PPOs is limited to Postal Service real property, and as such, the primary role of PPOs is to provide physical security for Postal Service property at their assigned work locations.
In addition, the investigation of mail theft is the jurisdiction of U.S. Postal Inspectors. Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement agents who conduct investigations of postal-related crime, such as mail fraud and theft. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. Mail system to further their illegal activity. Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely and efficiently delivers millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and merchandise. Unfortunately, such items are also attractive to thieves and that is why Postal Inspectors across the country are at work to protect your mail.”
The I-Team is not alone asking these questions, Congress is concerned too. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is demanding answers about the increases in mail theft and letter carrier assaults. On Thursday, Brown sent a letter to the USPS Board of Directors demanding the postal service restore patrolling duties to postal police.
This came after Brown says he was ignored after he sent an original letter to the USPS Postmaster General and the Inspector General of the USPS on October 14 “urging them to restore the patrolling functions of the Postal Police Officers and take necessary steps to address the increase in mail theft and postal robberies to help keep mail carriers and Ohioans safe.”
The I-Team will continue to follow this developing story and bring you any updates as we get them.
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