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Thieves with postal master keys target Edgewater building; postal carriers' union demands change

Mail thieves target Edgewater building with master postal key
Mail thieves target Edgewater building with master postal key 03:19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A crew of thieves brazenly broke into an Edgewater neighborhood apartment building and swiped mail and packages.

As CBS 2's Sabrina Franza reported Friday, postal carriers are now pushing for a big delivery change.

Missing mail is nothing new. It is a problem we have been reporting on for years.

We also have been asking about postal master keys, or arrow keys – the keys used to open mailboxes – for just as long. The problem with the yes is that many times, they are basically universal – and can open mailboxes across an entire area.

This latest case in Edgewater is not unlike others we have seen. Thieves waltz into an apartment building – already with the arrow key – and the crime is easy as they open all the mailboxes with that one key and take what they want.

They then close the mailbox as if none of it ever happened.

"Overall, what they took from me was less than $40 worth of stuff - and I'm not super worried about that," said one woman who lives in the Edgewater building that was targeted. "I'm just worried that they're running around with that key, getting into anybody's place they want to." 

We are hiding the woman's identity because she does not want anyone knowing where she lives.

"That's like a federal crime," the woman said. "That's not like somebody stealing a couple boxes. That's like big time!"

The woman reached out to us after seeing our reporting on arrow keys. We have been tracking similar crimes elsewhere – including the West Loop.

"Just feeling like these people can come and go from any building they want at any time they want," the woman said. "It's like getting the keys to the city - in a bad way."  

If stolen, the arrow keys can be used across neighborhoods – on blue mailboxes where mail is dropped off, and cluster mailboxes where residents of multi-unit buildings receive their mail.

"That could be very advantageous to somebody looking to do something negative with those keys," said Mack Julion, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Postal workers' union wants 'cluster' mailboxes done away after thefts 03:22

Julion is a Chicago mail carrier himself, and has been for 25 years. He would like to see cluster boxes done away with. He noted they are often located outside in the middle of a block.

"I think the answer is restoring the basic core of our service, which is basic door-to-door delivery," Julion said.

But Julion said the USPS seems to be trying to pivot away from door-to-door delivery.

"More and more, We're seeing coming in neighborhoods - particularly with new development - these cluster boxes more and more in the middle of the block," Julion said. "I think that the postal service is pretty much creating that problem in themselves, and I think they need to do more to protect our members out there on the street."

The union is pushing for a city ordinance to get rid of the large multi-mail boxes, which increase the value of arrow keys – and, they say, put a target on the backs of letter carriers. He said postal workers are afraid for their safety.

"We had a letter carrier robbed at gunpoint over on the South Side," Julion said.

The proposed ordinance has yet to reach the City Council.

As for catching the criminals, that is up to postal inspectors – without the help of Postal Police. U.S. code only allows Postal Police to assist postal inspectors when the crime happens on postal property.

"It turns out that postal inspectors do not effect that many arrests," said Frank Albergo, national president of the Postal Police Officers Organization. "It's not for lack of trying. Postal inspectors on the mail theft teams, you know, they have limited resources. They can't use postal police officers."

Meanwhile, the four thieves who targeted the Edgewater building still have a postal arrow key out somewhere.

"I don't think they find them enough - and what's concerning with us is a lot of our members, trustworthy letter carriers, are being disparaged," Julion said, "because you know, there are instances where it may have been something internally - but more often than not, it is not an internal job."

We have reached out to the U.S. Postal Inspectors for the specifics of the various ongoing investigations into missing arrow keys. Every time, we get the runaround.

Last we heard, no one was available for an interview – and they say their investigations are ongoing. We'll keep asking.

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