Recently, mail delivery has proven a risky endeavor. In early June, New York Post contributor Allie Griffin reported that a “pair of masked muggers violently attacked and robbed a New Jersey postal worker on just his second day on the job.”
Two weeks before, two mail carriers were robbed in Portsmouth, Virginia.
These are not isolated incidents. In fact, there were an astounding 500 mail robberies in 2022, and there’s little indication that security is improving. Yet, the U.S. Postal Service refuses to allow the postal police force to conduct patrols and protect mail carriers, instead sequestering them around agency buildings. Postal leadership must protect its workforce and ensure a safe, secure mail system.
Amid soaring postal theft, lawmakers have vented their frustration to postal leadership that mail carriers don’t have anyone watching their backs. During a May House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy whether the service has “continued to prevent postal police officers from doing their jobs … by traveling to wherever the problem is taking place?”
DeJoy responded that he has no authority to deploy the 700-strong police force to high-crime areas because of laws on the books. The relevant legal language states that the service “may employ police officers for duty in connection with the protection of property owned or occupied by the Postal Service or under the charge and control of the Postal Service, and persons on that property, including duty in areas outside the property to the extent necessary to protect the property and persons on the property.”
That’s a mouthful, but it’s easy to see where postal leadership has gone astray in their interpretation of the law. The “protection of property owned or occupied by the Postal Service” makes it sound like the postal police force is limited to securing post offices and administrative buildings. The key overlooked language addresses property “under the charge and control” of the service. Because the service claims a monopoly on what goes inside mailboxes, it’s reasonable to infer that the agency effectively controls that property even though it doesn’t own outright mailboxes. And, if mailboxes meet the definition of protectable property under the law, postal police are indeed obligated to patrol mail carriers’ delivery routes.
While there are multiple ways that Congress’ vague language can be interpreted, courts tend to sidewith agencies’ interpretations if that interpretation is reasonable. In other words, DeJoy has all the legal cover he needs to send the postal police force on patrols.
Deploying postal police is just the first step in securing the postal system. The Postal Inspection Service, which oversees the postal police force, has an expansive mandate and receives about $500 million per year in taxpayer money to secure the mail. Even this substantial sum, though, fails to ensure smooth operations.
According to a 2021 inspector general audit of the Postal Inspection Service’s Washington division, “postal inspectors did not attach required field notes for 14 of 40 cases (35 percent)” examined in fiscal year 2020. This is a significant omission because “when postal inspectors are not adequately documenting investigative activities through field notes, they risk relying on alternative documentation when testifying to recall events that occurred months or, sometimes, years ago, which could affect their testimony (during court proceedings).” Half of all cases lacked the electronic communications necessary to keep national headquarters in the loop about field investigations.
Shoring up Postal Inspection Service operations can go a long way toward resolving theft cases and bringing criminals to justice. However, none of this will happen without the resolve and dedication of postal leadership. The service must use all the tools to keep its workers safe.