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Metro asks for public’s help in stopping mail theft

Once upon a time, it was unthinkable that someone would break into mailboxes, whether yours, mine or any of those big blue boxes that are the property of the U.S. Postal Service. But times have changed, and mailbox crimes are happening with greater frequency, especially in Summerlin.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to put a handle on identifying the brazen crooks, and they know it, which is why both the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Metropolitan Police Department need your input to help catch them. Mail tampering is a federal crime with penalties that range up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“We need the public’s assistance to help us identify persons who are breaking into mailboxes,” said Andrea Avery, a U.S. postal inspector in Las Vegas.

The message is the same from Metro. “We are involved in a cooperative effort with the postal inspectors,” said Laura Meltzer, a Metro spokeswoman. “We assist in these matters when requested by the postal inspectors.”

She said Metro is well aware of mailbox tampering “in several parts of the valley,” not just in Summerlin.

Meltzer explained that break-ins involving the big blue boxes are federal matters, since those are Postal Service property. But she added that there have a number of calls to Metro’s 911 and 311 involving residential mail thefts as well.

Avery acknowledged the the Postal Service is “very concerned” about the growing problem of mailbox break-ins and mail theft. She said the crooks are looking for anything of value, such as checks, gift cards and personal identity documents.

“We want people to let us know as soon as possible after a mailbox has been tampered with, or mail has been stolen,” she added.

Recognizing the fact that phone numbers for post offices in Las Vegas are not listed in the phone directories, Avery advised that victims of mail break-ins and theft should call 877-876-2455. “That’s the toll-free number for reporting such crimes. And the more information the caller can provide, the better it is for us to find the criminals,” she said.

Meltzer said “we have passed that toll-free number on to all of our Metro dispatchers for calls involving post office boxes, since that’s a federal matter, but we are available to assist the postal inspectors when called upon.”

What kind of information do officials want from the public? “Things like license plates, descriptions of vehicles and of individuals, if possible, anything that can help make our job a bit easier in tracking down offenders,” Avery said.

She noted that post office phone numbers are not listed because most postal facilities are constantly busy, many are understaffed, and employees have little time to answer calls. Still, Avery acknowledged that the Postal Service has to do “a better job of communicating with the public” on matters of mail crimes.

Marilyn Wassell, customer service coordinator for the postal system in Las Vegas, said “the Postal Inspection Service is replacing and repairing mailboxes within seven to 10 days after they have been broken into. In general, we advise people to mail items at their local post office. But if they do leave mail in their mailbox for pickup by their carrier, by no means should they leave it overnight.”

Major damage was done to a large number of mailboxes that had been invaded in the area of West Sahara Avenue and South Hualapai Way several weeks ago. There have been numerous other reports in recent months of mailbox tampering and stolen mail in other areas of Summerlin. But one of the more blatant mail crimes was discovered in Sun City Summerlin.

“We’ve been experiencing a number of mailbox invasions for some time in Sun City,” said former City Councilman David Steinman, who is president of the Sun City Board of Directors.

Steinman, who also serves in the community’s Security Patrol, explained that while on patrol one day, he found envelopes that had been torn open and scattered on the ground near one of the Postal Service boxes in the community. “We have been urging residents not to leave mail in their home mailboxes, but, if possible, to drive directly to the post office to avoid tampering,” he said.

— Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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