Chicago postal workers among the most endangered in country, data shows

ByTom Jones and Maggie Green and Liz Nagy WLS logo
Friday, May 24, 2024
Chicago postal workers among the most endangered in country: data
Data shows Chicago USPS mail carriers are among the most at-risk nationwide, particularly for robbery and armed robbery, data shows.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- From frigid temperatures to scorching heat, Chicago's mail carriers already have challenges when delivering mail citywide. But these letter carriers are constantly at risk of a growing problem that has nothing to do with weather: the risk of being robbed at gunpoint.

In fact, Chicago's postal workers rank among the most endangered in the entire country at risk of robbery, records obtained by ABC7 show.

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U.S. Postal Service employees faced nearly double the number of robberies last year compared to the year before, according to U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The stark reality lives in the back of many postal workers' minds as they constantly look over their shoulders walking their neighborhood routes.

"You fear every day coming out here that that person sees you delivering their mail, and might try to just shoot you," a postal worker told ABC 7. "You don't know."

That's what trauma will do, and it's why ABC 7 agreed to not use this letter carrier's name and blur their face in our reporting.

READ MORE: 3 mail carriers robbed at gunpoint in South Shore within 2 weeks: Chicago police

Walking on the verge of a sprint, this postal worker never stops moving along their far South Side mail route, always on the lookout.

On Jan. 5, 2023, the veteran letter carrier said a man held a gun to their head as they were making deliveries in the Roseland neighborhood. Chicago police records show the aggravated robbery call came in just after 11 a.m.

The letter carrier said the suspect had only one goal in mind: "The keys."

RELATED: USPS mail carrier robbed in Bucktown, officials say

Master keys, also known as "arrow keys," to so-called cluster-boxes in complexes and buildings across the city make letter carriers desirable moving targets, carriers told ABC 7.

This letter carrier said the keys aren't worth their life.

"They can have it," the carrier said. "I have to go home to my kids and my family."

The problem, which has existed in Chicago for many years, appears to be getting worse.

Data from the USPIS, the criminal investigatory arm of the U.S. Postal Service, shows the number of robberies reported on postal workers in Chicago continues to grow, year by year.

In 2018, USPS recorded just two postal employee robberies. By 2022, 32 postal workers were robbed on their routes. Last year was far worse, when 57 postal workers were reportedly robbed in Chicago, many at gunpoint.

Those numbers rank Chicago's postal workers as some of the most at-risk postal service employees in the nation.

Nationwide, more than 600 letter carriers were robbed on the job in 2023, according to postal service records.

ABC 7 created this map showing where postal worker robberies were reported since 2018. If you are having trouble viewing it above, click here.

"We have no protection out there on the streets," said Elise Foster, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 11 Chicago, the local union representing letter carriers.

Foster said her phone is constantly pinging with personal alerts from her members under attack.

"We need funding," Foster told ABC 7. "We need more prosecution. We need more police patrols on the streets in the community."

In the last few years, U.S. Postal Police have shifted to patrolling postal facilities, not mail routes.

If a carrier is robbed or attacked, investigators with the USPIS investigate these crimes, but it can be a tedious process.

USPIS investigators rely heavily on the public's help with tips and information, often sharing surveillance images from attacks and offers of rewards on their social media accounts.

MORE COVERAGE: USPS offers $150K reward after Harvey mail carrier robbed at gunpoint

In one case, postal inspectors released surveillance images of a man they said robbed a postal employee of an arrow key at gunpoint on Nov. 10, 2023, in Humboldt Park, and offered a handsome $150,000 reward for information.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney's office announced a person named Richard Thompson had been arrested and charged for the attack.

Thompson has pleaded not guilty.

Court records show at the time of the November attack, Thompson was out on pretrial release for a prior Cook County charge after he was caught with a stolen mailbox key last May.

A spokesperson for the USPIS would not confirm whether tips from the public played a role in Thompson's arrest, but said the rewards offered play an important role in solving postal crimes.

"Our agency's increased monetary rewards, particularly for violent crimes, have paid dividends to protecting postal employees," said spokesperson Spencer Block. "Both by identifying past criminal actors and preventing future ones from committing similar crimes."

Block said part of "Project Safe Delivery," an initiative launched a year ago in direct response to the spike in robberies, included increasing the rewards for anyone who shares information with investigators leading to an arrest or conviction.

"We put out wanted posters when we have good pictures and video of suspects," Block explained. "Rewards used to be up to $50,000 for arrest and conviction, now it's up to $150,000. That's a lot of money and money talks."

Block said it appears to be working: letter carrier robberies so far this year are down, while the number of arrests for these crimes has gone up.

For years, the postal service has promised to replace master-open arrow keys with a digital option, though officials will not say when that will happen, or elaborate on the plans to do so.

Letter carriers say that fix could save their lives.

"It's too dangerous, it's not worth my life," a letter carrier told ABC 7. "I already had a gun to me once, I'm not going to do it twice."

Members of the public can submit tips or reports of postal robberies ,mail theft, surveillance material of possible suspects, identification of suspects sought by postal inspectors or other relevant info by calling the USPS Hotline at 877-876-2455 or through the USPIS Chicago Twitter account here.