Mail carriers are being robbed at an alarming rate, and the Postal Service must do more to protect them

Fear of becoming a victim no doubt has all mail carriers in the Chicago area looking over their shoulders. Sen. Dick Durbin and other lawmakers are demanding more action.

SHARE Mail carriers are being robbed at an alarming rate, and the Postal Service must do more to protect them
Ronald Clark, 37, of Roseland, a letter carrier for about seven years with the United States Postal Service, uses his master key, which unlocks mailboxes across the zip code, as he delivers mail in the 3800 block of South Wabash Avenue on the South Side on April 24.

Ronald Clark, 37, of Roseland, a letter carrier for about seven years with the United States Postal Service, uses his master key, which unlocks mailboxes across the zip code, as he delivers mail in the 3800 block of South Wabash Avenue on the South Side on April 24.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Nothing stays mail couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, the U.S. Postal Service tells us, but the agency itself is hardly being swift enough in responding to the growing number of armed robberies of its mail carriers.

Leaving its letter carriers at risk is shameful. The Postal Service needs to pull out all stops to protect them.

Besides the traumatized mail carriers who are direct victims of the robberies, the fear of being confronted by armed robbers no doubt has all mail carriers in the Chicago area looking over their shoulders as they deliver mail. No one wants to be threatened by a gun, and with their easily recognizable mailbags, letter carriers are sitting ducks.

Editorial

Editorial

Besides the carriers themselves, victims include those who rely on the mail service to send sensitive documents, such as checks and papers including personal data that, in the wrong hands, can lead to identity theft. People counting on prescription drugs that don’t arrive are suddenly plunged into health crises. Banks and individuals whose checks are stolen suffer if thieves “wash” checks to erase the original information and rewrite the checks to pay themselves large amounts.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times’ David Struett reported the number of robberies of letter carriers in Chicago has tripled in the last three years. Earlier this year, a member of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, who also is a former deputy postmaster general, said there has been a “dramatic escalation” of mail carrier robberies nationwide.

Stolen master keys can be sold for thousands

Mail carriers are targets for criminals who want “arrow keys” — master keys that can open blue collection boxes, green relay boxes, outdoor parcel lockers, cluster box units and apartment panels throughout a ZIP code. Using the keys, criminals can scoop up the mail.

Some criminals sell the keys and stolen checks to other criminals for thousands of dollars, including to burglars who want the keys, or illegal copies, to gain access to multi-family buildings. Even people who haven’t been directly victimized have reason to worry about the safety of their mail. And it doesn’t seem likely robbers would return much of the valued personal mail they make off with if it turns out not to have monetary value. That heart-warming letter from a friend or relative on a personally significant occasion? You might never see it.

Last month, Chicago police released a community alert about mostly West Side letter carrier robberies from March 7 to April 5, in which up to three suspects armed with semi-automatic handguns demanded mail carriers’ postal keys.

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is so frustrated with the Postal Service’s lagging response, he says some areas of Chicago are becoming “delivery deserts” where people can’t count on getting their mail. Often the people who live in those areas are among the ones who rely most on the mail service. On Monday, Durbin said he wants alerts sent to letter carriers, more-secure technology and thieves to be sentenced for 10 to 25 years. Last year, Durbin, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., U.S. Rep Mike Quigley, D-Ill., U.S. Rep Sean Casten, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., sent a letter to the Postal Service’s Board of Governors criticizing its “inadequate response” to the robberies.

Earlier this month, the Postal Service offered a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of two men who robbed a West Side mail carrier. The agency is sending postal inspectors and analysts to high-crime areas and is working with federal and local law enforcement. It also is looking for ways to replace arrow keys with a system less vulnerable to robbers.

Banks can help by using high-tech tools such as image forensics to spot altered checks before criminals can get any money. If the payoff for robbing mail carriers is reduced significantly, so will the number of robberies.

But that doesn’t let the Postal Service off the hook. Its top officials should be working day and night to foil the efforts of mail thieves.

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