Mail thefts in the Anza and Aguanga areas are “epidemic” Acting Anza Postmaster John Kolb said. “Not only here but everywhere. It is a sad state of affairs.”
Kolb from the Anza Post Office on Contreras Road in Anza reported that there have been six community mailboxes on Tripp Flats road torn open and mail stolen two weeks before Christmas and six more after Christmas. In the past few months more and more residents from Sage to Anza residents have been reporting their community and personal mailboxes have been pried open and the mail stolen by thieves. The Riverside Sheriff’s Office and the Post Office has been informed of the thefts and are doing what they can to catch the thieves, but problems exist, Kolb’s said.
“We are doing what we can,” he said. We try to fix the boxes as soon as we can. We want those boxes repaired, but some are nearly unrepairable. Some are 30 years old.” He said the fact is that the post office does not own the boxes either the community boxes or the personal boxes. “They are owned by the residents,” Kolb said. While it is a federal crime to steal mail from mailboxes the post office does not own the boxes and is not required to repair them if damaged. He said if a postal carrier cannot place the mail in a damaged box he does not have to leave it there.
Mailboxes are available for sale at most big box stores and hardware outlets and all are required to meet U.S Postal Service specifications and must be installed in specific locations. But any damage to those boxes must be repaired by the owners. One of the regulations that is difficult for Anza and Aguanga are those who live on dirt roads. If you are installing your own mailbox it must be at least 40 inches tall, set back from the street 12 to 24 inches off the highway and they must be located on a paved road. Thousands of local residents live on dirt roads and must rely on community boxes or their postal boxes at the local post office. “Because of that and the thefts some residents have begun to rent postal boxes,” Kolb said.
Another problem with catching the mailbox thieves, according to Kolb, is the fact that while all mailbox thefts are reported to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, other law enforcement agencies, and the postal inspector there are just not enough investigators to track down the thieves. “It’s really a manpower problem,” Kolb reported. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office only has two officers assigned to regular patrols in the Anza area and there is only one postal inspector/investigator in all of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In addition to the investigative limits the district attorney’s office is unable to prosecute mail thieves for no more than a misdemeanor unless it can be proven that more than $950 has been taken form the mails. It is rare that a mail thief is caught in the act with mails, and even with that it must be proven that the thief has either the cash or a major object of value in hand or has used what was in the mail to fraudulently buy goods with a stolen credit card. Credit card theft from the mail is of the greatest concern because thieves can steal the owner’s identity.
This past week Murrieta Police reported they had caught a suspicious man and woman reported by an alert citizen who had in their possession stolen mail. They also allegedly had illegal drugs and other stolen property in their possession as well, police reported. The stolen property and mail is being returned to the owners, but it is most likely any prosecution by the district attorney will not be for the mail theft. The federal authorities may step in to investigate as well,
What does Kolb suggest to help people deter the thieves? First residents should always report any suspicious activity seen taking place around community boxes to both the Sheriff’s Department and the post office. A suspicious persons report d off for police in Murrieta. If possible and is safe to do so residents should take any license numbers and a description of the suspicious persons.
The second suggestion is for the residents who receive mail at the community boxes should contact each other and find ways to reinforce the boxes, even with iron bars if necessary. Whichever way they are reinforced the lock portion of the boxes must be obtainable by the postal carrier. “Although we sometimes can fix the boxes but can’t replace them, we beginning to put sturdier locks on them,” Kolb said. He indicated a stumbling block with replacing, repairing or reinforcing the community boxes, is not all the residents who use the community box want to pay their share of the replacement costs. Replacement community boxes, depending on the number of boxes and materials used, can cost as much at $2,000 for a 16 box unit. Communities with homeowner’s associations sometime put those costs in their HOA fees.
For those who own their own boxes Kolb said to make sure they are firmly anchored to ground by a metal post or another strong stand. The box itself should be welded or bolted firmly to the post base. “Don’t use wood. Someone could just come in and saw it off,” he said.
Security devices, such as surveillance cameras are another option, but someone would have to monitor them. Community patrols also may help.
Kolb said residents who want to reinforce or replace their community boxes may call the post office for information, or to report a mail theft. He said sometimes stolen mail is recovered and can be returned to the owner.