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Protecting Postal Personnel and Securing the Mail
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
In 1792, President George Washington signed into law the Post Office Act that established the U.S. Post Office Department. The legislators of our youthful country valued mail so much that the Post Office Act listed capital punishment as the penalty for stealing mail.
It’s also noteworthy that “postal surveyors” were the first federal law enforcement officials hired by the United States. These early law enforcement agents were tasked with protecting U.S. mail, property of the nascent national mail system and the individuals who transported the mail. These lawmen (there were no women agents at that time) were the forerunners of today’s Postal Inspection Service.
NAPS strongly believes the Postal Service’s mission to protect the mail is just as important today as it was for early America. This is the reason NAPS has included mail security and postal personnel protection among its key legislative priorities for 2023. NAPS’ legislative activists will take this message to Capitol Hill during our March Legislative Training Seminar.
Yes, we also will convey the necessity to improve the consultative process for all EAS-level postal personnel through passage of H.R. 594, the Postal Supervisors and Managers Fairness Act. We also will impress on our elected leaders the importance of granting all EAS employees due process rights through enactment of H.R. 595, the Postal Employee Appeal Rights Amendment Act.
Moreover, we will communicate the need to repeal the discriminatory treatment suffered by so many Civil Service Retirement System annuitants by passing H.R. 82, the Social Security Fairness Act. And we will encourage Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility to ensure implementation of the Postal Service’s 10-year plan and Postal Reform Act of 2022 to improve mail service to the American public.
However, current circumstances demand we add this new priority. For the past two-plus years, NAPS has been monitoring the impact of the Postal Service’s 2020 decision to restrict the law enforcement authority of the Postal Inspection Service’s uniformed members (aka U.S. Postal Police). Prior to fall 2020, uniformed members of America’s oldest federal law enforcement agency were authorized to protect mail and postal property and personnel beyond the perimeters of postal facilities.
But in 2020, the agency decided to restrict the activities of its uniformed law enforcement agents to protecting postal facilities. In effect, the USPS was attempting to erroneously recast officers of the Inspection Service’s uniformed division as security guards.
At the same time this redeployment and reimagination were being implemented, crimes against postal personnel and the mail were acceler-ating at breakneck speed. Almost every day, the American public is alarmed over the magnitude of attacks on USPS letter carriers. In November, Linn’s Stamp News, quoting data secured through a Freedom of Informa-tion Act request, reported that armed robbery of letter carriers had increased 144% since 2020.
In effect, contracting the uniformed agents’ authority virtually eliminated “letter carrier protection patrols.” NAPS members are extremely concerned about the protection of the employees they supervise. This exposure to crime compromises employee morale, safety and recruitment.
Notably, employee vulnerability was identified at the outset of NALC’s collective-bargaining process last month when National President Brian Renfroe declared that “letter carriers [must be] safe from the moment they arrive at their stations until the moment they park their vehicles after delivery. We cannot allow postal crimes to persist.” Clearly, taking postal police off the street undermines letter carrier safety.
Concurrent with the rapid rise of attacks against letter carriers was a dramatic increase in mail theft. In fact, on Feb. 27, 2023, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network sent a “FinCEN Alert” to America’s financial institutions entitled, “Nationwide Surge in Mail Theft-Related Check Fraud Schemes Targeting the U.S. Mail.”
Specifically, the Treasury Department reported an astonishing 161% increase in mail theft complaints over one year, from 2021 to 2022. Reducing uniformed agent patrols and performing law enforcement activities with an understaffed uniformed presence—at the same time COVID-19 increased the use of the Postal Service for commerce—emerged as a sweet target for postal criminals.
NAPS members are most concerned for the employees under their supervision, but also for confidence in the security of our national mail system. For these reasons, NAPS has been working with representatives of the uniformed division of the Postal Inspection Service and members of Congress to restore the division’s broad law-enforcement authority.
Last year, Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and William Pascrell (D-NJ), and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced two different bills to help clarify the postal police force’s authority. The division currently employs only about 350 officers who are supervised by about 85 EAS-level agents. However, smart deployment and growth in the police force complement would help suppress crime against personnel and the mail.
In early March, NAPS New York Area Vice President Dee Perez, with NAPS Postal Police Supervisors Branch 51 President Butch Maynard and member Joe Dispensa, met with Garbarino to discuss the anticipated reintroduction of his legislation, and, of course, thank him for co-sponsoring H.R. 594 and H.R. 595.