A rise in attacks on postal workers has the letter carriers’ union calling for better protection.
Robberies targeting mail carriers increased 78% in 2022, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Earlier this month, a 52-year-old mail carrier was shot and critically wounded on the Northwest Side in an attempted robbery in the middle of the afternoon. Another letter carrier was robbed at gunpoint just 15 minutes later.
Elise Foster, president of Branch 11 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents more than 4,800 letter carriers in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, said that in the past 12 months, 96 of her members have been assaulted in some way.
The majority of those mail carriers “have been accosted by someone that’s approaching them, not always to do bodily harm, but to rob them of their equipment,” said Foster.
Often robbers are targeting so-called arrow keys, universal keys used to access things like collection boxes, parcel lockers and apartment mailbox panels.
Foster said the threats now faced by mail carriers are unprecedented — and could drive some to quit the service.
“This is unheard of,” Foster said. “This has never happened. A federal employee is never assaulted while they’re doing their jobs. Mail carriers who walk up in every community each and every day delivering the mail, it would always be hands off the letter carriers. Now we’re in a different type of environment. Now we have to worry about being assaulted, and when those carriers are assaulted, they’re not gonna go back on the street and deliver mail.”
Spencer Block, public information officer and postal inspector at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said the threats faced by mail workers have changed in recent years.
“The threat against our letter carriers has evolved over time, especially since COVID,” Block said in an interview with WTTW News. “Our strategy to combat that and to investigate those crimes has evolved as well.”
Block said that with the increase of mail services as a result of the pandemic, people interested in perpetrating crimes such as identity theft have “evolved their tactics” and that “part of that led to armed robberies to try and utilize the postal service to commit additional financial crimes.”
“These robberies are being committed to take or attempt to take what people receive and send out in the mail every day, which is checks for bills, credit cards, important documents, things that facilitate business,” said Block. “I don’t think that these robberies are taking place because someone just has a drive to hurt somebody or the thrill to take from them. Ultimately, there’s a financial motive behind it.”
According to Foster, her members want to see the perpetrators of these crimes face prosecution and severe consequences.
“They need to find them and prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” said Foster. “And then we need stiffer penalties because it’s gonna have to come from Congress — stricter laws — to enforce all the penalties for attacking a letter carrier.”