The Turlock Police Department’s effort to put a stop to a growing trend of mail theft logged another success with the discovery of a makeshift mail catcher inside a mail collection box at the Turlock Post Office at 555 E. Main Street.
The discovery was made shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday. The police department does not believe any mail was stolen using the device because it was discovered before the suspect could retrieve it.
The makeshift catcher was a piece of cardboard folded at one end to catch the mail and taped inside the mail collection box.
Targeting the blue collection boxes outside post offices is nothing new for mail thieves. In August 2016, Modesto Postmaster Jennifer Gowans said multiple collection boxes had to be closed or removed because they were repeatedly being broken into.
“They’re stealing the whole box if necessary,” said Gowans. “They can get into the blue collection boxes within a few minutes.”
The police department reminded residents to be mindful when dropping off their mail and to look for any tampering or alterations to the mail box when dropping off mail.
Even when individuals are caught breaking into mailboxes or with stolen mail, the prosecution of such offenses has various hurdles to overcome. Mail theft is a felony crime in California, but under AB 109 it is an offense that requires convictions be served at county jails and not state prisons, explained Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager at an August 2016 informational meeting about the growing problem.
To charge someone with mail theft they have to actually be caught breaking into the mailbox, or there needs to be compelling evidence that shows they were responsible for the theft. More often, people caught with mail not belonging to them are charged with possession of stolen property. Under Prop 47 if the value of the stolen mail is less than $950 it is considered a misdemeanor and the suspect is issued a citation.
Mail theft is also a federal crime, but federal prosecutors can’t go after each little theft because of a lack of resources.
“The federal jurisdictions don’t always have that many lawyers, so they have to be picky about the cases that they take,” Fladager said.
To increase the odds of mail reaching its correct destination, the U.S. Postal Service advises:
Use the letter slots inside your Post Office for your mail, or hand it to a letter carrier. Pick up your mail promptly after delivery. Don’t leave it in your mailbox overnight. If you're expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail. If you don't receive a check or other valuable mail you're expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately. If you change your address, immediately notify your Post Office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail. Don’t send cash in the mail. Tell your Post Office when you’ll be out of town, so they can hold your mail until you return. Report all suspected mail theft to a Postal Inspector. Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted friends and neighbors, you can watch each other's mailboxes (as well as homes). Consult with your local Postmaster for the most up-to-date regulations on mailboxes, including the availability of locked centralized or curbside mailboxes.
If anyone encounters this method of theft, or any other suspicious activity, report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and the Turlock police dispatch at 209-668-1200.