Austin leaders, lawmakers taking action to stop mail thieves

Mail theft is on the rise in Austin. City leaders and lawmakers are taking action while the postal service is expanding security measures in an effort to stop thieves.

"I’ve seen that there were postal workers who had their arrow keys robbed at gunpoint and an arrow key is a master key and so when those are out circulation throughout the community, that’s something that would give thieves greater access to mailboxes," Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly (District 6) said.

Last year, more than 400 USPS letter carriers were robbed on the job and almost 39,000 mail theft incidents were reported. In response, the U.S. Postal Service is increasing security by replacing thousands of arrow locks with electric locks and hardening blue collection boxes to make it harder to access what’s inside. 

Austin resident Bill Ogilbie said his old box has been replaced.

"One of the postal employees said it had been vandalized, and so they took it away while they were investigation," Ogilbie said, "The new box only allows you to put letters."

In April, cameras at the Mesa Village Condominium in Northwest Austin captured two men in security outfits able to get past a locked gate and start opening boxes and stealing mail, appearing to have a master key.

RELATED: VIDEO: Two men seen breaking into mailboxes at Northwest Austin condos

"Everyone who I've spoken to at least feels pretty violated by it," Austin resident Ashley Hornung said.

Council woman Kelly asked the city manager in April to send a letter to the Postmaster General requesting a change of master keys for mailboxes across the city.

"I know that these types of crimes are very personal, and I am seeking a way for the city to overcome them in a way that’s productive and helps try to mitigate the problem," Kelly said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (R-14) are also acting by introducing legislation to help prevent mail theft called the Upholding a Secure Postal Service Systems, or USPS Act

The act would require the Comptroller General of the U.S. to submit a report to Congress on nationwide mail theft trends and postal property to a House and Senate committee. It would also include measures the postal services is taking to combat theft.

"These crimes of opportunity are there, and people are able to take advantage of more easily and so it’s just up to me and other people to say that if we want our stuff to get someplace safe and reliable, we should look at other options," Ogilbie said.

"Every day, the U.S. Postal Service safely delivers mail to more than 150 million addresses; mails that include checks, money orders, credit cards, and merchandise. While the U.S. mail remains one of the most secure means to transmit such items, unfortunately, these items are also attractive to thieves." They are asking postal customers to check their mailboxes daily, as the longer the mail sits in the mailbox, the more susceptible it is to theft," The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said.

"Some people just get up in the morning and that’s their job to go out and skim as opportunities to skim whatever they can off society. It obviously doesn’t mean everybody is doing it, you just need a very, very small number of people to do that to have an impact on society," Ogilbie said.

Mail theft is a state and federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and substantial fines. Unauthorized possession of a USPS key is a federal crime punishable by up to ten years in prison.