Mailbox vandalism concerns residents

Police see no marked change but say package thefts do spike late each year

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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The day after Halloween, Don Bryant found that the U.S. Postal Service package drop box next to his cul-de-sac’s mailboxes had been set on fire and its door blown off, apparently with a firework.

When he went to the post office, he was told that dozens of package drop boxes and mail had been reported damaged in the past several months.

Bryant has lived near Northeast Andresen Road and Northeast 78th Street for 30 years, he said, without ever having a problem like this.

“If she’s telling the truth,” Bryant said of the Postal Service employee who told him about the other reports of damage, “that’s freaking horrible.”

Bryant and others have reported what feels like a spike of mail theft or damage to mailboxes in recent months. As inconvenient as it is for residents, authorities say there doesn’t seem to be a marked change in mail problems, at least beyond the normal late-year increase.

“There’s always an uptick around this time of year, and it’s constant,” Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said. “It’s something that we take reports daily on.”

Waddell said it didn’t appear to the sheriff’s office there have been more instances of mail theft or mailbox tampering in recent weeks. Typically, thieves like hitting the multi-box neighborhood and community mailboxes for efficiency’s sake, but they’ll also attack locked and unlocked rural boxes.

He said, the frequency of mail-theft complaints or reports of package theft from porches does rise come every holiday season, when more people are shipping goods.

Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the department’s numbers show a slight increase in mail-theft problems; however, some mail theft is reported to the post office but not to the police.

Adam Sale, a spokesman for the United States Postal Inspection Service, said he couldn’t comment on individual cases of mail theft. Although he didn’t have aggregate report information readily available, it didn’t appear to him that the county has seen an abnormal spike in mail-related problems.

“We don’t see anything out of the ordinary right now compared to what we see in past years,” he said.

Also complicating the “count” he said, is that in most instances where a mailbox or package drop-off is damaged, it’s not recorded as a case of vandalism, but mail theft.

“Generally, if we have mailboxes that are open, we treat that as a mail theft,” he said.

Bryant said he wanted people to know about the problems so they could take steps to protect their mail.

What’s also disappointing, he said, is that he was told there may be a six- to eight-week backlog for the Postal Service to replace the package drop box. Many on his block are retired and get their medicine by mail.

“We really need a box, because we get packages every day,” he said.

Postal Service spokesman Peter Haas apologized to those waiting for new Postal Service-maintained boxes for the inconvenience.

“We appreciate postal customers’ patience as we work to repair or replace damaged boxes and also appreciate the assistance of U.S. Postal Inspectors and local authorities who are looking into these criminal activities,” he said in an email.

The best thing people can do to protect their mail, Sale said, remains ensuring they pick up their mail daily and never leave anything in the box overnight.

They can also go online to use the Postal Service’s mail-hold system, which allows people to set up holds for their mail service for up to month — and with a day’s notice.

The Postal Service recommended that anyone who spots suspicious activity around their mailbox to call the police, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.