Postal Updates

USPS, USPIS provide update on Project Safe Delivery

Nov 6, 2023, 12 PM

By Allen Abel

The United States Postal Service is striving to confront what Gary Barksdale, chief postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, calls “a sustained crime wave,” including old-school smash-and-grabbers who pry open blue public mailboxes with crowbars, organized syndicates that steal personal information and wash and cash altered checks, brazen highwaymen who prey on isolated letter carriers, and Chinese chemists and brilliant forgers who traffic deadly drugs and millions of parcels with counterfeit labels across the Pacific and into the United States.

“Every postal employee deserves to walk in safety,” Barksdale said on an online Zoom call with journalists on Oct. 25. “If you attack postal employees, if you steal the mail, postal inspectors will bring you to justice.”

“We are implementing a strategic hyper-local approach,” Brendan Donahue, Postal Inspection Service assistant inspector-in-charge, said, citing 109 arrests since May for assaults on postal employees and 530 arrests for mail theft.

Donahue stated that surges in the Postal Inspection Service’s Project Safe Delivery program in Chicago, San Francisco and several metropolitan areas in Ohio had been impactful, but added that it is “very clear that more work needs to be done.”

Joshua Colin, USPS chief retail and delivery officer, reported that “in some areas, criminals have been enterprising in their attempts to steal or tamper with deposits in our blue collection boxes.”

Colin said that since May, 6,500 collection boxes that previously could be opened with an antiquated arrow key have been updated with electronic locks, and more than 10,000 high-security blue collection boxes have been installed nationwide. Plans call for an additional 42,500 electronic locks to be installed in the coming months.

If those upgrades prove insufficient “in specific locations where a blue box is a repeated crime target or mail density is very low, mail boxes may have to be removed,” according to Colin.

In August, the Postal Inspection Service increased the rewards it offers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a perpetrator to $250,000 for the murder of a postal employee, $150,000 for assault or robbery, and $100,000 for mail theft, post office break-ins or what the USPS described as “The unlawful use, reuse, or forgery of postage stamps, postage meter stamps, permit imprints, or other postage; or the use, sale, or possession with intent to use or sell any used, forged, or counterfeited postage stamp or other postage.”

An Oct. 25 USPS press release noted a 50 percent reduction in counterfeit package postage in the postal network due to “increased controls and enforcement.”

Pritha Mehra, chief information officer and executive vice president of the USPS, credited “advanced analytics and advanced AI to determine patterns of behavior” but gave no empirical details.

While USPS and Postal Inspection Service officials herald the successes of Project Safe Delivery, members of the National Association of Letter Carriers have been holding “Enough is Enough” rallies in Oakland, Houston, San Francisco and other cities to demand protection from what they claim is an unprecedented number of assaults and robberies.

“I took an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail, and now they’re like ‘Don’t worry about it, if you’re getting robbed, let them take whatever they want,’ ” Colorado letter carrier Ken Deuel, a 30-year USPS employee who was shot at during a recent robbery, said at a protest in suburban Denver on Oct. 24.

“I am furious that our members continue to be targeted and harmed with no end in sight,” Brian L. Renfroe, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, wrote in that union’s newsletter in September.

“Every employer has a duty and obligation to protect its employees on the job,” Renfroe said. “The Postal Inspection Service is not protecting us, and the U.S. Department of Justice is not doing its job prosecuting these crimes. Word is clearly out among criminals on the streets, leaving letter carriers unfairly forced to defend themselves. These conditions that once seemed unimaginable are the norm now. It is sickening, and it is wrong.”

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