U.S. Postal Service collection box keys like those stolen in the Dayton area in the past year are not difficult to copy, leading to widespread check theft, a postal law enforcement leader says.
“As far as I know they’re fairly easy to duplicate,” Frank Albergo, national president of the postal police officers’ association, said Tuesday of the devices, known as arrow keys. “Even if you recover the original stolen arrow key, you have no idea how many duplicates were made.”
Oakwood recently joined Beavercreek, Dayton, Huber Heights, Kettering, Centerville/Washington Twp. and Trotwood among the local communities where mail-related crimes have been reported.
An Oakwood police officer last week found a hidden postal service mailbox key during a traffic stop, leading to arrests of suspects, Oakwood Mayor William Duncan said.
Open and unopen mail was found in the vehicle, Duncan said, leading to the latest charges related to mail theft in Dayton-area cities.
Since late 2021, USPS mailbox thefts were recorded from at least seven different jurisdictions’ post office collection containers, amounting to thousands of dollars in stolen checks.
In the Oakwood case, the key was found during an overnight traffic stop after an officer flagged a vehicle for not having visible registration, Duncan said.
“The U.S. postal mailbox key was hidden inside a cellphone case,” he said.
The suspects were arrested for receiving stolen property and taken to the Montgomery County Jail, Duncan added.
The Oakwood Safety Department did not release further information. The Dayton Daily News has filed a public records request for the Oakwood police report.
Neither the USPS Postal Inspection Service nor its corporate communications office responded to inquiries Tuesday by this news organization.
Albergo said postal-related theft is a national issue that has “absolutely exploded.”
Findings from a 2020 Office of Inspector General Audit state the postal service’s “management controls over arrow keys were ineffective.”
The audit noted “the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown, and local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain key inventories.”
In many local cases, mail thefts have occurred at post office outdoor collection boxes. Police have recommended those mailing items drop them off at indoor post office slots.
Albergo said “it’s amazing the postal service is still using technology from the 1950s … You’d think at this point they would have some sort of electronic interface that would be able to track intrusion events, if it was stolen you’d be able to deactivate it” and it would have “GPS technology so if it were stolen you’d track where it’s located. But they don’t have it.”
More than a dozen area suspects have been arrested since late 2021, officials have said. Three pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges and are awaiting sentencing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.
They include: Leonard Alvyn Blackstone III, of Kettering, obstruction of mail; Keith Dujuan Calahan, of Dayton, receipt and unlawful possession of stolen mail; and Jeffrey Weaver, Jr., of Centerville, receipt and unlawful possession of stolen mail.
Obstruction of mail has a sentence of up to six months incarceration and receipt of stolen mail up to five years, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Fred Alverson.
Another defendant, Jayon Everett Perrin of Dayton, was charged in October 2022 with receipt and unlawful possession of stolen mail, Alverson said. His case is pending.
Dayton police records filed last May stated that a postal service key that unlocks “all Dayton-area mailboxes” had been stolen.
In September of last year, two postal workers were robbed at gunpoint within 15 minutes of each other in Dayton and Trotwood. In both cases the robber reportedly demanded the letter carrier’s arrow key.
Huber Heights police said in January that a postal service mail carrier was robbed by an armed man in an apartment complex. Officers later found the mail bag, scanner and cellphone case.
Staff Writers Jen Balduf and Holly Souther contributed to this report.