By Shirley Hawkins
In recent years, the post office has been facing special challenges , including the removal of a number of collection boxes due to theft and a steady decrease in mail service.
“In the past year, 213 mail boxes have been removed in the Los Angeles area, and half were removed due to theft and vandalism ,” said Richard Maher, public relations spokesman for the United States Postal Service.
“Thieves have been going inside the mail boxes and taking or destroying the mail,” said Maher, who added that the Los Angeles postal district stretches 730 miles and includes Los Angeles, the beach cities and the South Bay. “We still have 2,700 collection boxes in operation within those 730 square miles. But if the postal service determines that there is a recurring problem with theft, we remove the boxes for security reasons.”
Maher added that residents who find that their local mail box has been removed should give their mail to their local mailman or visit one of the 145 post offices located in the Los Angeles area to drop off their mail.
Maher said that to cut down on theft, the postal service has relocated a number of post boxes to busy streets or to well-lit shopping centers where there is a 24-hour supermarket . “Thieves are less likely to attempt to steal the mail if there is a lot of foot traffic or if there is a security guard nearby,” he noted. “Many customers also find those boxes more convenient.”
Maher also said that the other reason boxes have been removed is due to a decrease in the volume of first class volume of mail in recent years. “That is due to a difference in the way our culture communicates,” he observed.
Maher added that in 2002, statistics indicate that the postal service processed and delivered 102 billion pieces of first class mail, but by 2012, mail delivery had dropped 68 billion pieces. “There has been an increase in people communicating and transacting business electronically,” he pointed out. “People are tweeting or typing text messages and paying their bills online. There’s also phone calls and email.
“As first class mail continues to decline, there is less of a demand for collection boxes, but the boxes will always be there,” assured Maher.
Maher added that the decline in mail service has resulted in seven years of net losses in revenue. “We operate only on the revenue we receive from postal sales, products and services and our expenses have been greater than our income,” Maher pointed out. “The postal service does not receive tax dollars to cover their operations.”
Maher said the decrease in revenue has affected hiring new employees. “If a postal employee retires or quits, we don’t replace them. As they retire or leave the service, we adjust the mail service.”
Despite the statistics, Maher added that the postal service continues to experience an increase in package service. “Package volume has increased more than 20 percent in the past three years,” he noted. “The post office is now delivering packages on Sundays.”
Stacia Crane, public information officer for the Postal Inspection Service, said the postal service continues to remain vigilant to thwart thieves. “We found that thieves were stealing the mail at night. Theft and crime of any nature tends to increase due to the struggling economy,” she noted.
Crane said that thieves use different methods of reaching into the boxes, but declined to divulge exactly how the thieves steal the mail. “There are thieves who have taken the whole collection box. Those are heavy boxes, so they use a truck. A postal collection box is not something one man can’t pick up.”
With the arrival of the holiday season, Crane offered a few safety tips. “First of all, residents should not place cash in envelopes before they are mailed. If a resident opens a mail box and notices something odd, like a sticky substance on the lid that prevents the letters from dropping into the box, or if they notice a suspicious individual loitering near the box, they should take their mail it to the nearest post office instead. Also, residents should drop their mail in the box close to the collection times—they should not drop their mail in the collection box where it sits overnight or over the weekend.”
Crane added that mail theft is a federal crime. “Theft is a problem that we at the postal service take seriously. A person stealing mail can be fined or imprisoned for five years,” she said. Crane added that residents should call 911 or the postal inspection service at (626) 405-1285 if they notice suspicious activity near mail boxes.
Maher added that a resident can locate their nearest collection box by calling 1-(800) Ask-USPS.