USPS ‘actively defunding’ its police force amid spike in postal crime, associations warn lawmakers

The Postal Service, already struggling in some regions to cover delivery routes with available staff, is experiencing a spike in postal crime that further hurts employee recruitment and retention, postal associations told lawmakers.

Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Association, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subcommittee on government operations that postal police staffing has shrunk by approximately 65% since 2002.

Albergo said the postal police force, at a time when...

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The Postal Service, already struggling in some regions to cover delivery routes with available staff, is experiencing a spike in postal crime that further hurts employee recruitment and retention, postal associations told lawmakers.

Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Association, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subcommittee on government operations that postal police staffing has shrunk by approximately 65% since 2002.

Albergo said the postal police force, at a time when postal crime and robberies of mail carriers are on the rise, has shrunk to approximately 350 rank-and-file officers, and continues to see its headcount shrink through attrition.

Albergo estimated there will be fewer than 300 rank and file postal police officers by the end of 2024, unless changes are made.

“The Postal Service is actively defunding its uniformed police force,” Albergo said told lawmakers at a field hearing in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Albergo said the postal police force has been reduced by 20% since 2020, and that after 50 years, all proactive postal police mail theft prevention and letter carrier patrols have been eliminated.

Postal police have also seen their jurisdiction shrink. Albergo said that two years ago, the Postal Inspection Service narrowed the postal police force’s authority, restricting it to investigating only crimes committed on postal property

“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.) said that robberies of mail carriers more than tripled between 2018 and 2021, and robberies involving a gun more than quadrupled.

However, Connolly said the Postal Inspection Service is opening cases on a fraction of these crimes, “offering little in the way of crime prevention.”

“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.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) also raised concerns about recruitment and retention challenges for the USPS workforce.

“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.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said in a statement Thursday that attrition, “mainly due to retirement eligibility combined with the inability to operate the training academy during the COVD-19 pandemic, has made it difficult to keep Postal Police Officers at their authorized complement.”

”The Postal Inspection Service restarted Postal Police Officer Basic Training courses in August 2022, and we look forward to replenishing our essential uniformed police force,” USPIS said on its statement.

Albergo said the Postal Inspection Service has eliminated entire postal police tours in Detroit, Memphis, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

“In other words, for the first time in 50 years, postal police operations no longer support 24-hour policing coverage,” he said.

Albergo said the attrition rate for postal police officers has far exceeded the hiring rate, “and there is absolutely no plan to reverse the trend.”

“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 said.

Ivan Butts, President of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said the association is concerned that the security of the mail and the protection of postal personnel is under threat.

“We have a serious issue with employee retention, that I think is not being addressed as aggressively as it should,” Butts said, adding that USPS could reverse this trend by putting new hires and early career employees on guaranteed routes with guaranteed hours.

Butts said USPS also needs to revamp its onboarding process for postal managers. He said the current process is too long, and often results in managers showing up at their workstation “without having any real knowledge of the work that’s in front of them.”

“It can be a culture shock. you spend two months getting ready for a job, and when you get there, that’s not the job that you need to be doing. We need to have an onboarding process that puts these candidates in front of their members, in front of their leaders, in front of their managers as soon as possible,” he said.

Gary Vaccarella, the USPS district manager for the DE-PA 2 district, said his district is reporting service scores that consistently exceed 90% for mail and packaged products.

However, Vaccarella said there have been “isolated incidents” of service disruption because of a lack of available employees, and is taking steps to recruit and retain personnel.

Vaccarella said that USPS over the past 12 months has hired 2,962 city carrier assistants, 1,363 rural carrier assistants, and 1,704 postal support employees in Pennsylvania.“

“These pre-career representatives of our workforce perform the same duties as career carriers and clerks. These positions are often a gateway to career positions,” Vaccarella said.

Vaccarella said his district is “aggressively addressing” its hiring practices, and that USPS is doing the same nationwide. He said there are at least 20 district-led job fairs each month, and that postmasters have held additional job fairs beyond that.

Vaccarella said USPS is giving new hires extra training to address retention challenges, and limiting their work hours within the first two weeks, within the first 30 days, and within the first 60 and 90 days to prevent burnout.

“We have much oversight on that and we do recognize the importance of addressing the retention of our new employees,” he said.

Vaccarella said USPS shares community concerns about recent increases in mail theft from collection boxes, and that the Postal Inspection Service is also working to improve collection box security with key and lock enhancements.

However, he urged lawmakers not to make legislative changes that would require postal police to conduct work beyond the facilities they’re obligated to protect.

“PPOs are assigned to certain facilities because the Inspection Service has determined that these facilities require the presence of uniformed, trained and armed officers. Removing officers from Postal Service property would increase the security risks to those facilities,” Vaccarella said.

However, Albergo said a heightened police presence on mail routes would quickly drive down the rate of crimes committed against USPS employees.

“Criminals will not see a postal police officer in a conspicuously marked vehicle and say, ‘Oh, I think today’s a good time to rob a letter carrier,’” he said.

Albergo said he has not seen national USPS management take steps to address crimes against USPS employees.

“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.

Melinda Perez, assistant inspector general for audit in the USPS Office of Inspector General, said the IG’s office recently initiated an audit that will analyze trends and evaluate the efforts the Postal Service and Postal Inspection Service are taking to prevent and respond to mail thefts.

Perez said some cases involve stolen Treasury checks and gift cards, made possible through the theft of “arrow keys” used to open blue USPS collection boxes.

“Arrow keys are used by postal workers to open blue collection boxes and neighborhood delivery box units. Subjects are stealing arrow keys or approaching postal employees and offering to pay them to sell or loan them their keys,” Perez said.

The IG’s Office of Investigations has initiated “Operation Secure Arrow,” a multifaceted effort to identify and investigate employees involved in the theft and mishandling of arrow keys.

This work includes employing data analytics focusing on employees who are misusing arrow keys, and collaborating with the inspection service. Perez said the IG’s office has 20 open investigations related to this problem.

Investigations under Operation Secure Arrow, she added, have already resulted in five criminal prosecutions and seven administrative actions.

“Sending and receiving mail without fear of it being delayed or stolen is critical to an effective postal system,” Perez said.

The subcommittee and witnesses also expressed concerns with USPS plans to consolidate delivery operations from 200 facilities down to 21 large regional Sort and Delivery Centers.

Butts said NAPS is concerned about the consolidation plans and has requested Congress to require USPS to suspend the plan “until a transparent and comprehensive analysis can be completed.”

“We believe consistent with the law, the Postal Service should be transparent with regards to the reasons it’s deciding to initiate this plan. What are the specific goals in the plan? What are the cost savings? If so, how much will be saved? And how will success be measured?” Butt said.

Butts said plans to consolidate mirror the Delivery Unit Optimization (DUO) plan USPS implemented in 2010 and 2013. The IG, however, found USPS only realized a fraction of the estimated cost savings from those consolidation efforts.

Connolly also voiced concerns about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent statement USPS “may need” to cut 50,000 positions over the next decade through natural attrition.

“Chief among Congress’s concerns is that Postal Service has once again failed to keep its key stakeholders informed, effectively informed of their plans and how it will impact careers and everyday job performance,” Connolly said.

Connolly said subcommittee members also remain skeptical of long-term USPS plans “that rely on rate hikes, slower service, lower standards, fewer workers and reduced infrastructure.”

Connolly on Wednesday introduced the Ensuring Accurate Postal Rates Act. The bill would require the Postal Regulatory Commission to restart their review of USPS rate-setting authority to determine if further rate hikes are warranted, given the passage of the Postal Service Reform Act this spring.

“This once-in-a-generation legislation puts the Postal Service on the path of financial solvency — unshackling it from unfair statutory burdens that kept it mired in unnecessary payments and debt. The bill plants the Postal Service on firm financial ground, readying it for the future,” Connolly said. “Congress must make sure Postal Service leadership is prepared and poised to take the reins we hand them. Recent reports and constituent voices leave us concerned that they are not.”

The PRC, following its 10-year rate review that concluded 2020, kept a price cap on market-dominant products like first-class mail, but allowed USPS to begin setting rates beyond the pace of inflation to account for changes in mail density and its retirement benefits for its workforce.

 

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