Target 11 Investigates: Mail carrier attacks on the rise

PITTSBURGH — You’ve heard the saying, “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet.” But what about bullets and baseball bats?

A disturbing Target 11 Investigation reveals what some mail carriers are facing today.

Thieves trying to steal your identity and money are behind some of these vicious attacks.

If there was ever a day that proves how things have changed, Jan. 5 was it. A mailman in Perry North was delivering letters and bills when a car pulled up and out comes an AK-47.

Gunfire erupted but miraculously, no one was hit.

But this wasn’t the first time.

Last May, a mail carrier was brutally beaten in Brookline in an unprovoked attack by a man with a baseball bat.

In 2021, a postman was shot and killed by a former alleged disgruntled neighbor in Collier Township.

It’s all part of a troubling trend that is on the rise.

Like a lot of things, being a mailman isn’t what it used to be, and while the Postal Services says the attacks in our area that we highlighted above were random with no clear motive, in other cases across the county, there is now a surprising motive for the violence.

Thieves, caught on camera, tearing through what the post office calls cluster boxes with a crowbar.

It’s a short of one stop shopping for crooks looking for your checks, account numbers and credit cards.

But who needs a tool as crude as a crowbar, when they can always get one of these.

It’s called an arrow key that not only provides easy access to cluster boxes, but to the large postal boxes you see on the street.

Which is why scenes like this are happening across the country.

A mailman in Boston was suddenly held up at gunpoint. The crook took the arrow key and then ran off. The carrier called it in.

So, why would a key be worth such a risk?

“They take pictures, upload them on platforms and upload them for sale,” said David Maimon, a criminology professor at Georgia State University.

Gloria Daniel wrote a check to pay her water bill and put it in the mail, like she always did.

But this one ended up in the wrong hands.

“Yep that’s my check,” said Daniel.

We found her check for sale on the dark web. And it can be a lucrative criminal enterprise.

Target 11 also obtained surveillance video of thieves using an arrow key to open a cluster box for an entire apartment complex. They emptied every mailbox and dumped the mail into trash bags.

Terrell Freeman and his crew stole a mail key and over three years swiped 86 checks, worth more than $3 million. They’re now serving multiple years in prison.

“It’s at epidemic proportions. It’s it has spiraled out of control,” said Frank Albergo, a member of the Postal Police and the head of its national union.

Target 11 discovered more than 2600 mail carrier attacks in the United States during the past two years, with 170 arrow keys reported stolen.

But what’s worse, said Albergo? This explosion of violence and theft was encouraged by two very bad decisions by his own agency, the U.S. Post Office and the Postmaster General.

“It’s frustrating because I know postal police officers could make a difference. And a lot of this is unnecessary,” said Albergo.

So, what’s the problem?

And how could the U.S. Postal Service allow its own carriers to face this growing danger?

And the action some U.S. Senators are now demanding.

Target 11 Investigation Part 2: Is the Postmaster General to blame for uptick in violence against mail carriers?

In part two of his special report, Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle examines why critics contend that the Postmaster General himself may be making the problem worse.

Exclusive surveillance video obtained by Target 11 shows a man approaching a mail carrier, pulling what appears to be a handgun and stealing what’s called an arrow key.

Thieves are after checks, account numbers and credit cars that they the sell on the internet.

Target 11 discovered more than 2600 mail carrier attacks across the country during the past two years.  With 170 arrow keys reported stolen.

The Postal Inspection Service said that’s a small percentage of attacks given the 150 million addresses postal carriers service every day.

Interestingly enough, Pittsburgh Postal officials claim so far that they don’t know of any arrow key hold ups in our area, although mail carriers here in Western Pennsylvania have been beaten, shot at and even killed for other reasons.

In January, shots were fired at a postman in Perry North, another attacked and beaten in Brookline last year and a carrier shot in killed in Collier Township in 2021, all random, isolated incidents according to postal inspectors.

“It’s the postal services all time blunder,” said Albergo, who believes the postal service is partially responsible for the uptick in violence.

First he said by issuing a 2018 rule pushing communities to use cluster boxes.

“Obviously, when a letter carrier doesn’t have to walk from house to house and there’s a consolidated delivery point, it saves money, but it also invites more crime because if you get the arrow key, then you can open the cluster boxes,” said Albergo.

But even worse, he said, in August of 2020, newly appointed Postmaster General Louis Dejoy put new limits on the postal police, stopping them from going out with mail carriers on their rounds.

“It benched us. We were no longer able to protect postal workers, and we were no longer able to do these proactive mail theft prevention mail theft prevention patrols,” said Albergo.

We reached out to the Postal Service for comment.

They referred us to Postal Inspection.

They said under the law, it’s their job to investigate mail thefts, not Postal Police.

They said Postal Police are responsible for security at Post Offices.

And Postal Inspection said they aggressively pursue anyone who uses the mail to further illegal activity.

Below is the full statement from the USPIS:

The jurisdiction of Postal police officers did not change in summer of 2020.  Clarification concerning the jurisdiction of Postal Police Officers (PPOs) was received in 2017 and messaged out to PPOs and PPO management through 2018 and 2019. The Postal Inspection Service deemed it necessary to provide further guidance on the role of PPOs in a written communication in August 2020.

Postal Police Officers (“PPOs”) do not investigate mail theft. PPOs are the uniformed security force of the Postal Service and play an important role in the protection of employees, assets and mail on Postal Service property. PPOs are armed, wear uniforms, and use clearly marked vehicles to deter crime and provide physical security at Postal Service facilities. By law, the jurisdiction of PPOs is limited to Postal Service real property, and as such, the primary role of PPOs is to provide physical security for Postal Service property at their assigned work locations.

In addition, the investigation of mail theft is the jurisdiction of U.S. Postal Inspectors. Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement agents who conduct investigations of postal-related crime, such as mail fraud and theft.  The U.S. Postal Inspection Service takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. Mail system to further their illegal activity.

The Postal Inspection Service is also engaged on multiple fronts with various partners to combat robberies and prosecute these criminals. Some of the steps we are taking include:

  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service engages with its local, county, state, and federal law enforcement partners, including the Department of Justice, to address violent crimes committed against Postal Service employees and other Postal crimes.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service participates in violent crime tasks forces including the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force which include local, county, state, and federal law enforcement officers.  These task forces target violent crimes including those perpetrated against on-duty USPS employees.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service employs Special Assistant United States Attorneys throughout the United States to specifically prosecute mail theft related cases including those associated with the robberies of on-duty USPS letter carriers.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service employs local law enforcement officers as task force officers in various locations throughout the United States to address mail theft and other crimes with a postal nexus
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service deploys additional Postal Inspectors to locations around the country where robberies, mail theft, and other postal-related crimes warrant more focused attention.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service utilizes the latest technology and techniques to target cyber-enabled financial crimes including those associated with robberies and mail theft.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service works closely with other stakeholder groups within the Postal Service to develop, test, and deploy new and improved hardware, tools, and technology to enhance mail security.
  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a program called “Safe and Secure”, which focuses on continuing employee education and prevention efforts through talks, presentations, and training videos to help employees prevent robberies, assaults, and theft from postal vehicles and facilities.

The safety and well-being of USPS employees is a top priority for the Postal Inspection Service. Postal Inspectors respond to all reports of threats, assaults, and robberies.

Regarding Arrow keys, all Postal equipment falls under the purview of the Postal Service and serves a proprietary role in the essential delivery of U.S. Mail. Our role is to investigate these crimes when equipment is lost and/or stolen and to make recommendations to the Postal Service on strengthening security measures. These recommendations are proprietary and will not be disclosed.

While the narrative the Postal Police Officer union president discusses may seem compelling, it is inaccurate and paints a false picture of the work every Postal employee does to keep the U.S. Mail safe. The Postal Inspection Service is committed to the effort to protect Postal employees and prevent mail theft. From investigating, to working with prosecutors and other law enforcement, we will not rest until we can put an end to crime impacting the U.S. Mail.

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