Thefts reported in the state by mail carriers of arrow keys used to secure collection boxes have gone from 34 last year to 23 through Oct. 27, federal records show. None were reported in 2020.
Mail and arrow key theft cases grew by more than 400% in the Buckeye State from 2021 through last year, according to documents.
Armed robbers seeking arrow keys victimized several southwest Ohio mail carriers while hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen checks were cashed by parties they were not issued to, according to authorities and police records.
Ohio’s mailbox theft surge in recent years is likely due to “knowledge of postal service security information,” Nicole Lutz of the postal inspector’s Cincinnati office said in an email.
It may include “postal keys circulating in traditional media, social media, encrypted messaging platforms, and on the dark web,” she added.
This year, officials have used “a holistic approach to address these crimes” called Project Safe Delivery, Lutz said.
It seeks to protect employees and mail delivery, prevent incidents through education and awareness, and enforce the laws that protect mail flow, she added.
Through late October, postal inspectors completed a series of targeted law enforcement sweeps in Chicago, San Francisco, and cities across Ohio, “major metropolitan regions facing significant threats from organized postal crime,” Lutz said.
Other changes include replacing “antiquated arrow locks with electronic locks in select cities” and increasing rewards from $50,000 to $150,000, she added. Both have been used in Ohio this year.
High crime areas
More than 6,500 keys, used in financial crimes such as altering mailed checks, have been replaced with electronic versions, Lutz said.
Postal officials plan to add 42,500 electronic locks nationwide and are increasing arrow key accountability reviews in “select high postal crime areas,” Lutz said.
An arrow key theft was reported in a Dayton-area armed robbery last month. It happened about two months after the postal service tripled reward offers for information leading to the arrests and convictions of the suspects.
No arrests have been made, but “we have observed an increase in tips” about the crime, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Christine Bevins said.
Replacing 49,000 locks “sounds impressive,” said Frank Albergo, national president of the postal police officers’ association. “But when you look at the scale of the postal service” there are more than 9 million, a recently released audit states.
“Replacing (those) locks is not going to be the answer. It will help,” Albergo added. “I think it’ll help protect the blue collection boxes. But’s not going to help protect letter carriers.”
U.S. numbers are on pace to approach 2022 mail theft totals while last year’s arrow key robberies have already been shattered, federal records show.
National arrow key thefts is the focus of a series of recommendations in a two-year inspector general’s audit released Sept. 28.
The report advocates for more oversight, accountability and training on arrow key policies, and finalizing a mail theft strategy “that is under development by the end of calendar year 2023,” according to the audit.
When asked about implementing the report’s recommendations, Lutz deferred to management’s comments in the audit.
“Management recently implemented a monthly arrow key certification mechanism … that provides multiple layers of oversight from postal headquarters to the installation head and visibility of the data,” the response in the audit states.
While the postal service agrees on some arrow key policies and mail theft strategy recommendations, its target dates for changes drew Albergo’s criticism.
He specifically questioned the Sept. 1, 2024, start for a mail theft strategy. An audit released three years ago recommended a similar change, Albergo said.
“They knew about this since 2020,” Albergo said. “So, it’s taken them four years to finalize a mail theft strategy?”
Significant change in mail theft rates will require putting “postal police back out on the street.”
Postal police officers are uniformed officers responsible for protecting the postal system and usually work in metro areas. Albergo has said he believes a decision by post office leaders in 2020 limiting postal officer powers away from postal service properties is contributing to the problem.
Mail theft arrests dropped by about 40% during a three-year period recently after federal policy restricted their arrest powers, he has said.
Albergo said the postal service’s Project Safe Delivery, which started in May, “is doomed to fail if you’re not going to use any uniformed police force.”
Year Ohio U.S.
2020 66 3,937
2021 137 3,621
2022 659 11,804
*2023 290 9,209
Year Ohio U.S.
2020 0 48
2021 8 133
2022 34 329
*2023 23 342
*Thefts reported through Oct. 27.
Source: U.S. Postal Inspection Service.