The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is facing a surge in postal crime while its police force is being “actively defunded.”
The Postal Police Officers Association (PPOA) recently told lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subcommittee that the USPS police force has diminished by nearly 65% since 2002.
Frank Albergo, national president of the PPOA, said that the police force is too weak to effectively deal with the increase in robberies and other postal crimes.
Currently, the postal police force consists of 350 rank-and-file officers, but Albergo estimates that this number will shrink further than 300 by 2024 due to attrition.
“The Postal Service is actively defunding its uniformed police force,” Albergo told lawmakers.
According to Albergo, the situation worsened around 2020, when 20% of their force was eliminated. Albergo also complained that all proactive postal police mail theft prevention and letter carrier patrols had been eliminated as well.
In addition to manpower shortages, the USPS police force has also had its jurisdiction effectively stripped from them.
Albergo noted that the Postal Inspection Service restricted police to only investigating crimes committed on postal property, effectively limiting their scope.
“It’s inexplicable. What sort of law enforcement agency doesn’t want their police officers protecting employees? What sort of law enforcement agency doesn’t want their law enforcement officers to have the power to do their jobs? I’m as confused as anyone else. It doesn’t make any sense,” Albergo said.
Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) confirmed that robberies of mail carriers have increased over recent years. Between 2018 and 2021, robberies of mail carriers tripled, and robberies involving a gun quadrupled.
Postal Service employees are also losing faith in authorities with the Postal Inspection Service, who they see as not doing enough to prevent crime.
The PPOA believes that this is one of the main reasons behind the postal service’s recruitment and retention difficulties.
Connolly said there needs to be more postal police who can protect employees while they are on the road.
“The Postal Service has determined that these officers should be confined exclusively to Postal Service property, inviting all would-be thieves and ill-doers to prey on postal workers and their customers while they’re on delivery roads because they’re not on postal service property. We need more postal police who are vested with the authorities needed to prevent crime and stop them where they happen,” Connolly said.
Pennsylvania Representative Brian Fitzpatrick affirmed that the working conditions for postal employees are not ideal.
“Even in the best of times, these are very challenging times for all of those workers, both from a workflow perspective, a mental health perspective [and] a personal physical safety perspective,” Fitzpatrick said.
However, the USPS Postal Inspection Service blamed the attrition solely on the impact of the pandemic, declaring that COVID slowed training. No mention was referred to the impact of robberies on worker safety.
Albergo believes there is a concerted effort to reduce the USPS police force.
He pointed out that entire postal police tours in major cities such as Detroit, Memphis, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia have been eliminated.
“In other words, for the first time in 50 years, postal police operations no longer support 24-hour policing coverage,” he said.
“Postal crime has spiraled out of control. Postal workers are being attacked and mail is being stolen at unprecedented levels. It is obvious that the Postal Inspection Service is doing very little about it,” he continued.
Indeed, thousands of mail theft complaints were lodged last year. Lawmakers said they received countless complaints of stolen checks and delivery delays, further compounding issues.
Albergo also referred to instances of mail carriers being held at gunpoint for “arrow keys,” which open blue mailboxes. Thieves have also taken checks and “washed” them, allowing them to falsify information.
USPS officials said just over 1,200 people were convicted of the crimes.
Ivan Butts, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said his association is also concerned about the security of the mail and the protection of postal personnel.
“We have a serious issue with employee retention, which I think is not being addressed as aggressively as it should,” Butts said.
“We have received more communications, whether mail, email, telephone calls or getting stopped on the street, about service issues over the last few years than any other issue my office has heard about,” U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon attested.
In response to these complaints, the Inspector General’s office launched an audit of the USPS and the Postal Inspection Service to evaluate their efforts to prevent mail theft.
Albergo further addressed USPS leaders such as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, urging him to take action.
“What I do know is that Mr. [Louis] DeJoy hasn’t done anything to rectify the problem. He hasn’t spoken to the Inspection Service, telling them, ‘Hey, you have police officers. Let’s use them. We have a mail theft epidemic.’ That hasn’t happened as far as I know,” he said.