One day in November, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier was walking his route in Brooklyn, New York, when he suddenly found himself in a harrowing situation.
While he was opening a mail storage box, a man rushed up and attempted to steal his arrow key, according to the New York City Police Department and an internal Postal Service alert. The keys, which are used to unlock mail collection boxes, are highly coveted by criminals seeking to steal mail.
The two men tussled with each other, but the assailant managed to run off with the key, police said.
The mail carrier took off after him, but the pursuit didn’t last long. The suspect pulled out a gun and opened fire — the bullet whizzing past the mailman, police said.
“It’s crazy that things like this are happening,” said John Cruz, president of the local letter carriers union. “We need more protection out there.”
The Brooklyn incident was extreme, but it wasn’t an aberration. Criminals across the country are increasingly targeting mail carriers.
Between 2018 and 2021, robberies of mail carriers more than tripled, and robberies involving a gun more than quadrupled, according to U.S. Postal Inspection Service data obtained through a public records request.
The number of letter carrier robberies across the country rose from 80 in 2018 to 261 in 2021. The number of armed robberies jumped from 36 in 2018 to 154 in 2021, according to the data.
The crime wave is showing no sign of abating. Both categories of crimes are on pace in 2022 to exceed last year’s figures.
The Postal Service referred questions to the Postal Inspection Service, which investigates letter carrier robberies along with local police departments.
In a statement to NBC News, the inspection service said the surge in letter carrier robberies is likely fueled by several factors including the economic impact of the Covid crisis, the growth in USPS parcel volume amid the rise of e-commerce and the mailing of government checks related to pandemic aid programs.
“The Postal Inspection Service is engaged on multiple fronts with various partners to combat robberies and prosecute these criminals,” the statement said.