The Postal Service reported Wednesday that since May, more than 600 people have been detained by law enforcement as part of a crackdown on criminality that includes carriers being threatened with guns over their outdated universal keys.
Mail theft and postal carrier robberies have also increased. Criminals target carriers’ alleged “arrow keys” to get access to mailboxes in addition to stealing mail.
Gary Barksdale, chief postal inspector, told reporters on Wednesday, “We will continue to increase the pressure and put potential offenders on notice. If you are attacking postal employees, if you steal the mail, or if you commit other postal crimes, postal inspectors will bring you to justice.”
Amidst protests by the National Association of Letter Carriers calling for improved carrier protection and severe penalties for thieves who rob them, the Postal Service made its announcement on Wednesday.
In recent months, they have taken place all over the nation, including on a Tuesday in Denver and a Wednesday in Houston. After being robbed last year, over 500 letter carriers are on edge.
Criminals target the mail more frequently to commit financial crimes like forging checks to collect money. In a statement, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said that while maintaining the “sanctity of the nation’s mail” is crucial, the safety of those who deliver it comes first.
The Postal Service is changing tens of thousands of postal carriers’ universal keys, which are sought after by thieves looking to steal mail in order to commit check fraud, in an effort to decrease robberies, according to officials.
In other places, 6,500 of the keys have already been replaced with electronic locks, and another 42,500 are expected to be used soon, according to officials.
How many arrow keys are now in use has not been disclosed by the Postal Service. The Postal Service has also placed more than 10,000 high-security blue boxes in high-risk areas to deter mail theft by preventing thieves from fishing out the mail.
According to officials, the Postal Service made adjustments that decreased counterfeit postage by 50% and fraudulent change-of-address transactions by 99.3% over the previous fiscal year.
More than 100 of the 600 arrests made as part of “Operation Safe Delivery” since May were for robberies, while more than 530 were for mail theft, according to officials.
The punishment for tampering with the mail is severe. Possession or disposal of postal property entails a punishment of up to 10 years in jail, whereas theft alone is punishable by up to five years in prison.
A first-time offender who assaults a mail carrier faces a 10-year sentence. For an attack, repeat offenders face a 25-year sentence.