ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Robbed, violently attacked, even shot at in broad daylight, all while delivering mail.
Postal carrier attacks are on the rise nationwide, including two in Orange County just last month. 9 Investigates learned the majority of the robbers are after the same thing: the “arrow key” that opens blue drop boxes, cluster boxes in subdivisions and other multiunit mailboxes.
We learned there have been six of these attacks in Central Florida in the last six months. Investigators say the keys are stolen with the ultimate goal to commit major identity theft and fraud by stealing mail.
In a grainy surveillance photo, an Orange County postal worker is seen doing his job, picking up and delivering dozens of pieces of mail at a cluster box in Pine Hills in early October. Investigators say the photo shows a robber approaching the carrier, his stance implying he has a weapon.
9 Investigates learned, two days later, another U.S. Postal Service worker was robbed in the same neighborhood by someone with a weapon and driving the same getaway car, a gray Jeep Grand Cherokee.
In both cases, the assailant was after one thing: the key to the cluster box.
“It’s an arrow key. It’s used to open up certain mailboxes, and the bad guys, they want the keys, so often we’ll see our carriers robbed,” Postal Inspector Rick Johnsten said.
Johnsten said of all the crimes investigated by his agency, this is a top priority.
“We’ve had one incident where a shot was fired into a postal vehicle in Palm Bay during an attempted key robbery. We’ve had carriers hurt and threatened to be hurt, either weapons displayed or inferred, so it can be extremely dangerous,” Johnsten said.
That was also the case in Orlando in March, when police said two men were caught on video approaching a mail carrier at a condo complex off Walden Circle. The postal worker was found beaten with a severe head injury and his arrow key gone.
In August, another arrow key robbery occurred at the Pershing Villas subdivision in Orange County.
Data obtained by 9 Investigates uncovered that from January 2019 through June 2022, at least 2,600 mail carriers were attacked nationwide, with at least 170 arrow keys stolen.
Of those, 67 of the key thefts were just in the first half of 2022, blowing past the total of 55 keys taken in 2021.
We asked what more can be done to protect the workers.
“We deliver to 150 million addresses per day. My agency isn’t nearly big enough if we want to investigate also and watch the mail carriers at the same time,” Johnsten said. “So we have to prioritize.”
But we learned that the USPS has known about this problem for at least three years. An audit initiated in 2019 found “the agency’s management controls over arrow keys were ineffective, the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown and that new technology, including keyless locking and key tracking, could improve management controls over lost keys,” and protect workers. Until changes are made, those employees remain vulnerable.
“We don’t ask them to act as security or anything like that. That’s our job,” Johnsten said. “But we teach them to be good witnesses, so when things like this occur, they can tell us exactly what happened in as much detail as they can so that we can have an effective investigation and catch the person responsible.”
These cases are still unsolved, and there is a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
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