Postal Service cuts are cutting into its law enforcement mission

In April, Daniel J. Trammell attacked a postal service letter carrier while the letter carrier was simply delivering mail. The Postal Service employee suffered an injury to their neck. Earlier that same day, Trammell entered a post office, shouted at employees and threatened to shoot his letter carrier. 

This of course was not the first threat that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has dealt with. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the nation was on edge bracing for additional waves of attacks, which ultimately did come with the anthrax scare. This dangerous attack emanated through the mail, just seven days after 9/11. The USPS was the unwitting victim, with its law enforcement officers, postal police and postal inspectors having to handle a very dangerous incident. 

Today our pandemic is seeing similar dynamics at play, exacerbated by funding debates in Congress, as postal police and Postal Service inspectors are again caught in its crossfire.

The U.S. postal system is not only massive but it has been considered critical to our national security since its founding. Perhaps that is why the Founding Fathers included the postal system in the Constitution and originally listed the postmaster general as a Cabinet figure. It is also the reason the USPS has law enforcement agencies and an entire federal code dedicated to it — 18 U.S. Code Chapter 83.   

Despite being equipped with security, mail theft is on the rise as USPS employees face an increased threat of assaults and continued attacks. 

Still, even through escalated violence, postal service employees continue to aid in the delivery of 212 billion pieces of mail to over 144 million homes from 40,000 post offices, and they must continue to do so safely. Unfortunately, as it continues its operations, one of the Postal Service’s answers has been to cut its law enforcement operations.

For example, on Aug. 25, Deputy Chief Inspector David Bowers revoked postal police officers’ law enforcement authority, except when they are on property owned or leased by the USPS. This seems like the wrong strategy given its employees are sustaining increased attacks on the streets of America. If the postal police aren’t there to protect those employees and respond to these incidents, who will handle these crimes? 

This change of operations has left a target on most postal employees and mail as well as using U.S.  postal inspectors, who traditionally handle investigations of terrorism, international criminals, child predators and mail fraud, to fill the gap in some cases. So instead of focusing on fighting crime and protecting postal facilities, postal inspectors have been used for other law enforcement operations while postal police officers’ duties are further eroded. 

Instead of the Postal Service letting their law enforcement officers protect, investigate and catch thieves who are “mailbox fishing,” they are trying to replace the old blue collection boxes with new and improved “fishing proof” collection boxes, which don’t stop mail theft but merely displace it. Now, instead of going after mail boxes, thieves are targeting mail carriers and trucks. Rather than thieves fishing mail, they are now focusing on robbing mail carriers or breaking into postal trucks and stealing trays of mail.

Postal Inspection Service dates back to 1772. Within the last few months, however, it seems as though postal police officers — who operate under the inspection service — and their duties have been sidelined, while attacks on the postal service and its employees continued to rise.  

Larry Cosme, FLEOA President said, “while Postal employees perform their constitutionally essential mission, the brave law enforcement officers of the Postal Inspection Service, Postal Police, and Office of Inspector General are also still on the job, keeping the postal system safe and fighting back against crime. That includes fighting back against rampant COVID-19 related fraud with state and local counterparts on a newly established COVID-19 Fraud Task Force.” 

Despite the debate about the future of the Postal Service, one thing is clear: no matter what, the U.S. mail and its safe delivery are critical to national security and need a fully functioning law enforcement apparatus to do so. It seems wrong of our government to demand that the Postal Service operate “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” while they are dodging the efforts of criminals.

Donald J. Mihalek is a retired senior Secret Service Regional Training, tactics and firearms instructor. He also serves as the executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

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