USPS, union warn courts not serious on postal crime after 30-day sentence for letter carrier robbery

The National Association of Letter Carriers is championing bipartisan legislation aimed at imposing more severe penalties on postal crimes.

The Postal Service and its law enforcement division say they’re cracking down on armed robberies of letter carriers, mail theft and related crimes.

But USPS and the union that represents letter carriers say they’re frustrated with the prosecution and sentencing of these cases.

Now that union,  the National Association of Letter Carriers, is championing bipartisan legislation aimed at imposing more severe penalties on postal crimes.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday it was “simply unacceptable,” that a federal district court recently handed down a 30-day prison sentence for an individual found guilty of armed robbery of a USPS letter carrier in San Francisco.

DeJoy said the individual received a relatively light sentence, despite threatening a letter carrier at gunpoint and stealing the carrier’s personal possessions, as well as the mail and packages he was delivering.

“This sends a concerning message of encouragement to our nation’s criminals and a message of disregard to our loyal public servants, who deserve better protection and reassurance that the law will take crimes against them seriously,” DeJoy said. “America’s postal workers are entitled to feel protected as they go about their public service mission, and at a minimum should be able to take solace in knowing that the law protects them against crime as they perform their duties, and that any such crimes will be taken seriously by the courts.”

Criminals are robbing letter carriers for their arrow keys, which open blue collection boxes, to steal mail and packages, as well as commit financial crimes — including altering checks and committing check fraud.

NALC said assaults of USPS employees “were once rare,” more than 2,000 such incidents have happened since 2020.

NALC President Brian Renfroe said in a recent interview that the prosecution rate for these types of crimes is “alarmingly low,” and that sentencing guidelines give prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office the discretion to push for lighter penalties.

“If you’re the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and they prioritize what cases they want to prosecute, those who carry very light sentencing likely don’t get to the top of their list,” Renfroe said.

Renfroe said the 30-day sentence in the San Francisco armed robbery case “doesn’t act as much of a deterrent” for criminals.

NALC supports the Protect Our Letter Carriers Act, a bill Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) plan to introduce Wednesday.

The union says the bill “provides necessary safeguards to protect America’s letter carriers on their routes,” including more federal prosecutions and stiffer penalties for these crimes.

The Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), in its latest annual report to Congress, said it made 1,258 mail-theft arrests in fiscal 2022, and that 1,188 of those cases resulted in convictions. That same year, USPIS made 100 robbery arrests, which led to 68 convictions.

USPIS has seen a 49% decrease in mail theft arrests between 2018 and 2022, and a 43% decrease in mail theft convictions over the same period.

Renfroe said that, in the case of USPIS, “the scope of the problem, over the last couple of years, has outgrown their capacity to investigate.”

“In some cases, though, they do a great job with their investigations, but they have almost no capacity to protect,” he said.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics,  USPIS had 1,891 full-time officers in 2016, but only had 1,300 full-time officers in 2020 — a more than 31% decrease.

USPIS received enough funding to employ 1,431 postal inspectors in 2022, but only had 1,265 on board — about 88% of its authorized end strength.

NALC has held rallies in more than a dozen cities on postal crime. Renfroe said visibility on the issue has led to more prosecutions.

“We’ve seen some of the U.S. attorneys, right or wrong, they respond sometimes to public pressure,” Renfroe said. “When the legislation is introduced, the public being behind us will hopefully go a long way towards making that a reality.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California last month sentenced 34-year-old Leroy Wise to 30 days in federal prison.

District Court Judge Charles Breyer, in his sentencing, also waived a $200 fine for Wise to pay, because “the court finds the defendant does not have the ability to pay a fine.”

Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk, in a Feb. 14 sentencing memorandum, told the court that Wise, her client, on Aug. 9, 2022 “made the terrible, awful decision to target a postal worker in an armed robbery.”

“The weight of that terrible decision, and terrible act, continues to haunt Mr. Wise to this day. He has grappled with the “why” every day for the last year and a half – not to try to make an excuse for the crime, but to genuinely figure out what he could have been thinking,” Falk wrote.

According to Falk, Wise grew up in a neighborhood “riddled with drugs and violence related to gang activity.” but since his arrest, he has found a job at a nonprofit organization, stopped using marijuana and illicit drugs, found stable housing for his family, and has “made a concrete plan for the future.”

A federal prison, she argued, would completely destroy the substantial forward progress he has made.”

“It would be overkill and work against the interests of justice to send Mr. Wise to prison for the short time requested by the government and U.S. Probation given all the factors that are now on the table,” Falk wrote.

Arrests in letter carrier robberies up 73%

Since May 2023, USPIS has made over 1,200 arrests for letter carrier robberies and mail theft nationwide. The agency said it made 73% more arrests for letter carrier robberies so far in fiscal 2024, compared to the same period last year.

USPIS said that over the past five months, reported robberies of letter carriers have decreased by 19% and complaints received for mail theft are down 34%. The agency said it’s working with federal and local law enforcement partners to make arrests.

USPIS is also deploying more postal inspectors in cities across the U.S. as part of “Project Safe Delivery” a multi-pronged effort it launched in May 2023 to address a rise in attacks on letter carriers and mail theft cases.

The law enforcement agency says postal inspectors are conducting targeted law enforcement “surges” across the country including in Chicago, San Francisco and cities across Ohio.

In February, USPIS completed a second law enforcement surge in San Francisco, “to protect both postal employees and the integrity of the postal system.” Additional surges are planned for 2024 in other cities across the U.S.

Initial surges have resulted in more than 20 arrests, and more than 950 investigative actions — including the execution of arrest warrants, search warrants, and other court-authorized law enforcement activities.

In August, USPIS increased monetary awards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a perpetrator of mail crime.

USPIS now offers up to $100,000 for information on crimes involving theft of mail or USPS property. It also offers up to $250,000 for leads in the murder or manslaughter of a USPS employee or contractor, and up to $150,000 for information concerning the assault or robbery of a USPS employee.

As part of Operation Safe Delivery, USPS has installed more than 15,000 high-security blue collect boxes across the country, which are expected to be a harder target for criminals to exploit. It says it’s ordered an additional 8,500 “hardened” blue boxes.

USPS says it’s also installed 28,000 electronic locks on blue collection boxes across the country.

The agency saw more than 38,500 mail theft incidents from blue collection boxes in 2022 — an 87% increase compared to mail theft incidents in 2019.

Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said in a statement Tuesday that these security upgrades and ramped-up law enforcement efforts “demonstrate our continued progress with the Project Safe Delivery initiative.”

“These operations have advanced our investigations, secured postal assets, and raised awareness among postal employees about steps they can take to protect their safety,” Barksdale said.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)FILE - In this July 31, 2020, file photo, letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility in McLean, Va. A U.S. judge on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide. The judge called them

    USPS stepping up plans to curb uptick in mail theft, letter carrier robberies

    Read more