‘Significant mismanagement’ of anti-mail theft initiatives outlined in new federal audit 

mail theft
Postal offices across Queens will implement changes following a federal investigation that revealed mismanagement of mail theft reduction efforts.
Photo by Anthony Medina

The results of an initial federal investigation into mail theft throughout Queens were released last week in an audit report conducted by the USPS Inspector General. 

The Mail Theft Mitigation and Response Report, released on May 21, presents the results of their audit that honed in on stations in Jamaica, South Richmond Hill and Woodside. It found that mail theft initiatives were not properly managed or implemented and keys to unlock green relay boxes were not properly accounted for, among other evidence of negligence. 

The investigation was first launched in January at the call of Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng, who has been outspoken about the mail theft issue for over a year now. It was spurred by a letter she penned to the inspector general after her office received hundreds of complaints of mail theft in recent years. 

“The inspector general’s report confirms what we have long known: mail theft is a persistent problem in Queens, but it is far worse than previously known. From checks and packages to prescriptions and personal information, the gross mismanagement by the Postal Service created a permissive environment for thieves to take advantage of borough residents,” said Congresswoman Meng in a statement. 

In the span of six months in 2023, Queens residents submitted 3,295 inquiries about missing mail or potential mail theft. They determined that 45% of those were related to stolen mail or packages, instead of just being undelivered or missing. Officials suspect that many more cases went unreported. 

During that same window, there were three active robbery cases and 24 active mail theft cases in the borough. Less than half of those cases were closed. 

The Postal Service and the Postal Inspection Service collaboratively ensure the implementation of mail theft prevention initiatives. However, the Office of Inspector General operates independently to guarantee that postal offices nationwide maintain integrity and efficiency in their operations.

“Without a comprehensive plan and communication strategy to timely implement mail theft initiatives, the Postal Service and its customers will continue to be at risk of known mail theft issues in Queens, NY. These thefts damage the Postal Service’s reputation and diminish public trust in the nation’s mail system,” read the report. 

But the audit found that management on the local level did not effectively deploy the high-security collection boxes and electric locks that were delivered to postal offices to reduce mail theft from green relay boxes. Less than half of the locks that could have prevented theft were installed. The audit blamed a lack of effective tracking and planning to fulfill the installation requests. 

The second finding was that arrow keys, which are used to open green relay boxes, were not properly safeguarded in accordance with postal policy. In the past, there were reports that these universal keys were stolen from postal workers and replicated to open all relay boxes where significant amounts of mail are stored. 

The physical condition of blue postal boxes and green relay boxes was also not properly recorded or maintained. Several boxes that were examined during the audit were missing leg bolts and had cracks or even gaps in the door. 

“Following this extensive audit that I called for, there is a clear lack of enforcement and accountability, as well as significant mismanagement in deploying all initiatives put in place to combat mail theft,” noted Rep. Meng. 

The report provides seven specific recommendations to regional leadership in Queens to properly mitigate theft and protect local letter carriers. One of the recommendations is that local management implements mail theft initiatives in a timely manner. Another is that they develop a process to refine roles, responsibilities and frequency of tracking the condition of green relay boxes which are the main source of mail theft. 

“I urge local postal officials to implement these recommendations immediately, and I will continue to monitor the situation and hold the USPS accountable until mail theft no longer plagues our communities,” added the congresswoman. “Local management must be held accountable.”