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A jump in robberies of USPS carriers is prompting agency to expand safety measures

Chuck Quirmbach
There’s been a rise in robberies of US Postal Service letter carriers over the past couple of years. That’s prompted the federal agency to come up with Project Safe Delivery. The plan focuses on keeping mail carriers safe, and making changes to mail boxes and other postal equipment.

The Postal Service says nationwide, nearly 500 carriers were robbed last year, a 78% increase from 2021. Postal officials point to high numbers this year as well.

Milwaukee is one of the cities that’s been a trouble spot. Just weeks ago, the Justice Department announced indictments against five Milwaukee men accused of the armed robbery of postal carriers.

And there was more tragic news last December when Milwaukee letter carrier And there was more tragic news last December, when Milwaukee letter carrier Aundre Cross was shot to death while delivering mail. During a vigil, Cross' former supervisor, Tracey Merrill, remembered the man she called Dre, saying she appreciated his supportive spirit.

"We've all got a job to do, but we still have to have an open heart. And Dre was that open spirit. He encouraged me, when I was down. He encouraged me. Always encouraging words," says Tracey Merrill.

Federal prosecutors eventually charged two men with murder and two alleged accomplices with lying to investigators. The criminal complaint suggests some of the defendants may have been receiving illegal drugs in the mail. The matter has not yet gone to trial.

The president of the letter carriers' local union, Dave Skowronek, says many of his 1,900 members walk a route and interact with the public. And he says those troubling incidents do have an impact.

"I know people are reluctant, especially if there's something major like the murder of Brother Cross, where people are reluctant to go into an area. But, it is our job, our duty, to serve the American public, and we'll continue to do it," Dave Skowronek.

The Postal Inspection Service investigates crimes against letter carriers. In an effort to track down people who are targeting them, it runs appeals, seeking the public's help online.

"It's Wanted Wednesday. This week's suspects are wanted for the robbery of a letter carrier in Millburn, N.J., on May 13," says unidentified person.

The Inspection Service offers rewards of up to $50,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions.

Project Safe Delivery includes more extensive steps. They're installing thousands of high-security collection boxes to make it harder for thieves to steal mail. They'll also replace about 49,000 so-called arrow keys - that are used to open blue mailboxes - with electronic locks. It's those keys criminals want to steal checks and other items. The Postal Service hopes the measures will spur more people to apply to become mail carriers. There are more than 630,000 postal workers in the United States. About one-third of those deliver the mail. At a recent job fair at the Milwaukee Hampton branch post office, manager Lydia Caldwell says any new hires will find she's dedicated to employees' safety.

"We give safety talks every day. We're consistently making our carriers to always be aware of your surroundings. We go out on the street — management does — and we spot check to make sure our carriers are safe," says Lydia Caldwell.

The Postal Inspection Service urges customers to get involved in neighborhood watch groups to spread awareness about threats to people delivering the mail - also to keep an eye out for their carrier. And if they see something suspicious, call 911.