By Kyle Cheney 09/14/2020 04:03 PM EDT
The Postal Service last month abruptly ordered its police officers to stop investigating mail theft that occurs away from post office property, the Postal Police Officers Association alleged Monday, suing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to block a change they say could erode the safety of mail carriers and delivery.
“The Postal Service’s sudden change is unwarranted, impermissible, and contrary to the language of the statute and also to collective bargaining promises it has made to the officers’ union,” the association said in its lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington D.C.
Per the union, USPS implemented the change on Aug. 25, a day after DeJoy testified to Congress amid mounting concerns that policy changes he implemented were delaying mail service and could jeopardize record numbers of mail-in ballots expected in the presidential election.
Per the court filing, the USPS leader “declared that Postal Police Officers should no longer be assigned to investigate or prevent mail theft or protection of letter carriers” unless it occurred on Postal Service premises.
This would be a sharp break, the union alleges, from decades-old practices.
“Postal Police Officers have arrested countless individuals for all manner of crimes away from postal real estate, either by themselves or in concert with other agents,” the association notes. “Those officers were often tasked with conducting searches and seizures of arrested individuals, with the evidence obtained used to help secure criminal convictions and imprisonment for some of those arrested.”
The union argues that this unilateral change by USPS managers violates the collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Police Officers Association. The union is asking a judge to block the policy change pending arbitration and to declare that USPS leaders acted outside of their statutory authority.
USPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Postal Police have operated since 1971 as the uniformed division of the Postal Inspection Service, charged with protecting U.S. mail. There are about 500 postal police officers, a number that has dropped sharply over the years, compared to about 1,200 postal inspectors, according to Arlus Stephens, an attorney for the PPOA. Per the association’s suit, inspectors are increasingly taking on the responsibility of the postal police officers, but because they typically work regular business hours — compared to the officers’ 24/7 shifts — “their off-site mobile patrols are going undone,” the union alleges.
“Because of this abrupt policy change, in many places, the U.S. mail and postal personnel are receiving less protection,” the suit argues.
Per the lawsuit, a senior Postal Service Deputy Chief Inspector Craig Goldberg first raised the notion that postal police officers may not be legally permitted to exercise law enforcement authority away from USPS real estate in February. But the union said the agency “routinely” continued to send out postal police to investigate matters off of USPS property.
But that changed last month when Deputy Chief Inspector David Bowers issued an Aug. 25 “National Communication to all Inspection Service Divisions.”
“According to Bowers, Postal Police Officers no longer had any law-enforcement authority, whatsoever, except when they are physically stationed on real estate owned or leased by the Postal Service,” the union described. “Accordingly, Bowers directed that PPOs immediately cease and desist from any and all law- enforcement activity except within postal facilities.”