HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A group that feels they could make a dent in the mail theft problem said they are not being allowed to.
Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officer's Association, said officers have been sidelined by USPS since August 2020.
"Essentially, the postal service defunded the postal police force," Albergo said.
He said he has not gotten a straight answer why but said it came not long after the union secured a raise for the officers.
"Now we are confined to postal property," Albergo said. "It makes absolutely no sense."
He said for years officers were out on the streets. Albergo said they acted like street cops would in other law enforcement agencies. Postal inspectors acted as the detectives.
Now, Albergo said they are doing foot patrols at the post offices, which he said is important, but is not where the majority of the crime is happening.
"Carriers are being assaulted at an alarming rate," Albergo said. "Trucks are being broken into. Mail is being stolen out of blue collection boxes. Packages are being stolen off of people's doorsteps and the response was, 'Hey, we don't want postal police out on the street anymore.'"
"It's a shame, because you know who is suffering the most? Other letter carriers," Albergo added. "The letter carriers are like sitting ducks."
A recent report from the USPS noted that mail theft is up 161 percent between March 2020 and February 2021. They reportedly received 299,020 complaints of theft.
"Can postal police officers stop mail theft? No. It's out of control," he said. "Mail theft right now is a major problem. But can we make a major dent in it? Yes, absolutely."
Although many may not have heard of them before, Albergo said the postal police officers are federally trained law enforcement agents who carry guns.
He said just before USPS ordered them to stay on postal property, officers received crime mapping technology.
"The equipment is sitting in boxes," Albergo said. "They bought it to stop mail theft and then they're like, 'Let's not use this equipment. Let's just leave it in the boxes.'"
In a statement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said:
"Postal Police Officers have not been stripped of their duties. As permissible under federal statute, they are utilized to protect postal real property and employees and customers within the confines of said postal property.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service employs uniformed Postal Police Officers, who form part of our Security Force. The primary role of the Postal Police Officers is to provide physical security at their assigned Postal work facilities. Postal Police Officers play an important role in the protection of postal employees, postal assets and U.S. Mail within postal property. Postal Police Officers are not federal criminal investigators, and federal law limits their statutory jurisdiction to real property owned or operated by the Postal Service, including mail processing facilities and Post Offices. There has been no reduction in force of PPOs and their compensation and funding has not been impacted.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, U.S. Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws that cover the misuse of the mail and attacks on the postal system, its employees, and its infrastructure. Criminal investigations, including those involving mail theft and assaults on letter carriers while they deliver mail to tens of millions of addresses each day, is the responsibility of Postal Inspectors, who are federal criminal investigators with broad statutory authority on and off of Postal real property."