Once again Turlock neighborhoods are seeing a rash of mailbox thefts as the area saw eight mailbox thefts or damages within the last 10 days, according to the Turlock Police Department's call log.
The recent thefts have primarily been targeting the cluster mailboxes, though on one occasion the large blue collection bin was tampered with outside the Turlock post office.
The thefts were reported at:
• 560 E. Linwood Avenue on April 30
• 1400 N. Denair Avenue on May 2
• 555 E. Main Street on May 2
• 700 Park Street on May 2
• 1213 N. Palm Street on May 2
• 2580 Carmichael Way on May 7
• 4222 Windrose Drive on May 7
• 250 S. Walnut Road on May 7
On average, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is tasked with investigating all crimes involving mail, arrests 10,000 suspected criminals on a variety of offenses with the largest being for mail theft and possession of stolen mail. Mail theft is a federal offense and 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. 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 one of our biggest challenges," said Rafael Nunez, the inspector in charge for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's San Francisco division. "We have to harden the target because we are not going to arrest our way out of this."
Mail theft has become particularly prevalent in California, especially along the Highway 99 corridor from Bakersfield to Sacramento, which Nunez described as a "hotbed of activity" and largely fuel by methamphetamine use.
"A drug user might be paid $30 or $40 for a bag of mail," Nunez said. "That thief might not be the same person that is cashing the stolen checks."
The cluster mailboxes found in newer developments are often favorite targets of the thieves because they have a chance to steal a large volume of mail in one spot. They also become less secure after one or two break-ins. But the thieves will also target individual mailboxes in older neighborhoods and along rural road and collection boxes.
One new tool the Unites States Postal Service may at least help customers know if some of their mail has been stolen. The post office has unveiled Informed Delivery, which is an email system allowing users to see the mail that will be delivered to them. As part of the sorting and delivery process, the postal service scans the front of the mail that runs through the automation equipment. Users can enroll in Informed Delivery and receive a daily email showing what pieces of mail are set to be delivered. The service is only for letters and is available only to qualifying zip codes. The 95380 and 95381 zip codes in Turlock are eligible for the free service.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Office suggests these tips to help avoid becoming a victim of mail theft:
• 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).
Anyone seeing a theft in progress should call 911 and provide the dispatcher with a detailed description of the suspect, including a description of the clothing, height, weight, approximate age and any vehicles or other method of transportation that they may be using.
Anyone spotting someone behaving suspiciously in their neighborhood or around a cluster mailbox, should report it to the police department dispatch at 668-1200.