San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland grapples with armed robberies of mail carriers

- By Michael Cabanatuan Reach Michael Cabanatuan: mcabanatua­n@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @ctuan

Postal officials in Oakland sought to raise alarms Monday about what they described as a troubling rise in armed robberies of mail carriers.

Four Oakland mail carriers were robbed last month, authoritie­s said at a Monday news conference — among about 20 open cases of robberies and assaults in the past year.

“Despite their essential role, they are increasing­ly becoming the targets of criminals who have no concern for their safety or well-being,” said Oakland Postmaster Sunil Chanan, himself a former carrier.

Postal authoritie­s in Oakland are asking the public for help in apprehendi­ng the criminals, whom they called “cowards.” All postal patrons in Oakland and Emeryville will receive a letter asking them to keep an eye out for their mail carriers and contact not only police but federal postal inspectors, the USPS’ law enforcemen­t arm.

“The women and men delivering your mail need your help to be safe,” said Rafael Nunez, the postal inspector in charge.

Robberies of postal carriers and thefts of mail from mailboxes have always been a problem, authoritie­s said. But they’re on the upswing in Oakland in recent months. Assailants have snuck up on carriers walking their routes, leapt out of cars without license plates and approached carriers in their trucks, officials said. In most cases, they’ve displayed guns.

“No mail carrier should have to come to work worrying, ‘Is this the day I’m going to be robbed?’ ” said Edward Fletcher, head of the Oakland chapter of the National Associatio­n of Letter Carriers, the union that represents mail carriers.

Mail carriers are not armed and aren’t accompanie­d by security guards, he said.

“We’re not trained in self-defense; we’re not military,” he said. “This is cowardly.”

While they declined to offer further details, postal officials said that the robbers are suspected of being part of a crime ring or organized effort to steal mail and postal service property.

Everything from carriers’ cellphones and wallets to packages and envelopes has been stolen in the robberies. But spokespers­on Matthew Norfleet said the main target appears to be the ring of keys that gives carriers access to mailboxes. Contents of the boxes are then stolen.

Anyone who sees someone following a mail carrier or someone emptying a mailbox who’s not in a postal service uniform or driving a postal vehicle should call 911 first, then contact the postal inspectors at 877-876-2455 or, officials said.

The postal service is offering a $50,000 reward to anyone providing informatio­n that leads to the arrest or conviction of someone involved in the robberies. Robbing a postal carrier is a federal offense that can result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

Chanan said that mail carriers used to be respected by the people on their rounds but are now being threatened or robbed.

“People cared about you on the street,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is totally different.”

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