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Crimes against postal workers are up, but many never see their cases prosecuted

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Crimes against postal workers are soaring. A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says robberies of letter carriers went up almost seven times from 2019 to 2023. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, mail carriers are hoping Congress is able to deliver some relief.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Michael Roksvold has been a letter carrier in Las Vegas for three decades, and he never really worried about being robbed until one day in September of 2021.

MICHAEL ROKSVOLD: I had finished delivering to an apartment complex, and there's a man there standing with a sawed-off .22 rifle pointed at me who wanted the mail truck.

KASTE: Since then, he says there have been another 11 incidents targeting carriers from his post office station. The National Association of Letter Carriers counts more than 2,000 crimes such as robbery committed against letter carriers in the last four years across the country. Union President Brian Renfroe says during the pandemic, there was a boom in crimes involving stolen mail, things like check fraud.

BRIAN RENFROE: They needed to gain access to the mail, and gaining access to the mail is what we believe led to the increase in robberies of carriers.

KASTE: Last year, the U.S. Postal Service responded with a series of new safety measures, and the most important may be an effort to move away from the old-school master keys which make letter carriers such tempting targets for thieves. Bipartisan bills in the House and the Senate would provide another $7 billion to speed up that transition, but the union wants more.

RENFROE: The prosecution rate for these crimes is alarmingly low.

KASTE: Renfroe says only about 15% of the crimes tracked by the Union have led to arrests and federal prosecution. The legislation in Congress addresses this by requiring each U.S. attorney to have a prosecutor in the office who prioritizes crimes against letter carriers. In Las Vegas, Mike Roksvold says the Feds declined to prosecute the man who held him up. That man was prosecuted by the county with a plea bargain sentence that means he'll be out in another couple of years. Speaking on a cell phone from his route, Roksvold says this experience has left him on edge.

ROKSVOLD: I'm much more keen and aware of my surroundings. I'm always looking behind me, always checking out my back. There's a certain amount of fear.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.