In more than 20 years living in Stone Oak, Art Downey has never heard of, nor been exposed to, mail theft in his neighborhood — until recent months.
He once expected a new credit card in the post, only to realize someone tampered with his letterbox.
“People are breaking into mailboxes, looking for whatever they can find,” said Downey, board chairman of the Stone Oak Property Owners Association.
He isn’t the only one victimized by the crime, which is why District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry and his City Hall colleagues are pushing for a mail theft task force.
In fact, Perry also has recently fallen victim to purloined posts.
“It’s been bad in District 10,” he added.
Although burglarizing post office receptacles is a federal crime, the city wants to form a group to see what local government can do to decrease or deter the incidents, which have become rampant on the far North Side.
Perry was one of three City Council members who filed a Council Consideration Request on Feb. 21, asking the Governance Committee to review the proposal.
More communities citywide are becoming concerned about thefts of cluster mailboxes, officials said.
At a minimum, the council members suggested, the special unit should include the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, City Attorney’s Office, Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and neighborhood groups.
The goal would be to create a policy and a process in investigating localized mail theft. Some break-ins result in the establishment of false accounts and other instances of identity theft.
“A second outcome of this task force is the creation of guidelines to address best practices to reduce the theft from cluster mailboxes, such as placement, orientation, locking mechanisms or other options,” the document stated.
Michael Martinez, local postal inspector and team leader, said once a mailbox has been breached by a thief or vandalized, the act is considered a federal crime, subject to review by the U.S. Postal Service.
However, most occurrences go unreported except when a resident lodges a complaint, or if police find a pile of stolen mail, he added.
“We have seen an uptick in mail thefts throughout the last two years,” Martinez said.
Earlier in 2018, media outlets detailed what the Police Department’s San Antonio Fear Free Environment program called an “epidemic of cluster mailbox thefts” on the North Side.
Nextdoor, a website and app, periodically chronicles the break-ins or warns users to be aware of suspicious activity in their community.
“When I left my home this morning I noticed my mailbox was open, I thought it was a bit odd,” an Oak Meadow resident recently posted. “When I returned home … there was a card on my door from SAPD notifying me that mail with my name on it had been found in the neighborhood and I could pick it up at the SAPD property room.”
Martinez said there’s typically an increase in postal thefts during the holidays, when people receive gifts, and through tax season, when folks get refund checks or data for filing.
“That information leads to identify theft,” Martinez said. Nearly all the offenses occur overnight, he added.
District 9 Councilman John Courage said he’s heard from investigators that thieves, in some cases, somehow obtained a key to cluster mailboxes.
Replacing master locks for a community’s mail depot is problematic, Courage explained: “A neighborhood has to request it, and the Postal Service has to have the money to do it. It’s a long, drawn-out process.”
Martinez said as soon as residents see or think their mail has been stolen, they should immediately alert local law enforcement, the postal inspector and the landlord/property manager, if applicable.
A federal criminal investigation then begins, but leads help. Residents can call 1-877-876-2455.
Downey said his local postmaster has been good about sharing prevention tips and addressing mail thefts in Stone Oak.
Martinez urged residents to empty their compartments daily and, if leaving town, place a hold on mail, he added.
People can also visit the Postal Service website and sign up for Informed Delivery, a free digital preview of their upcoming mail.
Courage said he hopes the Texas or U.S. government will allow local authorities greater power in penalizing or preventing the thievery.
“The federal government needs to step up, and if they don’t, we as a state need to step up,” he added.
Perry said state or federal assistance would be ideal, but “that’s going to come down to money and resources, and there’s not much of either.”