PITTSBURG — The U.S. Postal Inspectors are repairing and upgrading locks and security on cluster boxes to battle an uptick in mail theft locally and statewide.
Pittsburg police chief Brian Addington and City Manager Joe Sbranti met with the postmaster last week to discuss additional security measures around thefts from mailbox clusters.
“We are seeing an uptick in mail theft statewide and we see the same increase throughout Contra Costa County,” said Jeff Fitch, public information officer for the San Francisco division of the postal inspector’s office. “They are targeting a number of those cluster boxes, which are in many of the new neighborhoods. The postal service is looking to repair and upgrade those boxes.”
Mailbox clusters are being targeted by thieves who are looking to get a large amount of mail in one fell swoop.
Postal inspectors started encouraging cluster boxes in 2012 to try to reduce expenses in an increasingly competitive environment. Door delivery was estimated to cost $380 a year, compared with delivery to the curb, which cost $240 a year. Delivery to a central location brings that cost down even further to $170 a year, which would help USPS save on its annual $30 billion in costs associated with delivering the mail.
Traditional mail theft has existed for hundreds of years; Congress imposed the death penalty for the crime in 1792. However, thieves began shifting to higher yield targets when developers began installing more and more of these.
Fritch said that the uptick in thefts has become more pronounced in the last 18 months. In the fall, the postal service decided internally that it would change its policies regarding repairs for cluster boxes in California.
“It was a decision made for just the state of California,” Fitch said. “We are seeing more attacks here and the management for the postal service made that decision to provide more protection because of the attacks on these boxes.”
Upgrades will be done to mailboxes that have been attacked or targeted by thieves in the past.
For Fitch, the most important aspect of preventing mail theft would be reporting it to the USPS, not just to local law enforcement.
“Reporting to us makes a huge difference,” Fitch said. “If cluster boxes are broken into on Saturday evening, people don’t need to wait until they see their letter carrier, you can report it. Also, if your mail has been stolen and you see unusual transactions on a card or bank statement, contact us again. That’s information that will help lead us to the bad guys.”
Mail theft is a federal offense and is punishable by up to five years incarceration and a $250,000 per crime. Possession of a counterfeit mail key, also called an arrow key, gets a thief up to 10 years in federal prison.
“This is something we take very seriously,” Fitch said. “We also always have a standing $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of mail theft.”
To report mail theft, call the postal inspectors at 877-876-2455.