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Postal cops catch San Francisco mail theft suspects in dramatic video

A person wearing a black hoodie is seen on the sidewalk opening blue USPS boxes
Two alleged mail thieves were caught red-handed Sunday after postal police in San Francisco interrupted an attempted heist on a Castro District street corner. | Source: Courtesy United States Postal Inspection Service

Two alleged mail thieves were caught red-handed Sunday after postal inspectors in San Francisco interrupted an attempted heist on a Castro District street corner.

In a video shared with The Standard by the United States Postal Inspection Service, a person wearing jeans and a black hoodie is seen using a postal key to open three of four blue U.S. Postal Service collection boxes at the corner of 18th and Diamond streets, pouring mail from each container into a postal service box.

Then, before the individual can empty the contents of the fourth mailbox, they take off running as two unmarked law enforcement vehicles converge on the area. A second individual then jumps out of a parked Infiniti and attempts to flee on foot.

Video shows postal inspectors catching two suspected mail thieves outside the U.S. Postal Service on 18th Street in San Francisco on Sunday. | Source: Courtesy USPIS

The timely arrests stunned postal inspection service spokesperson Matt Norfleet, who said catching mailbox pilferers during the crime is fairly uncommon.

“I would say this is the least common way for us to catch … the mail thieves, just because so many different things need to happen all at the same time for us to be there when they show up on the box,” Norfleet told The Standard on Thursday. “My experience is we usually track them back to their location.”

He said the two individuals were apprehended about a block away from the mailboxes and arrested.

The mailboxes at 18th Street have recently been a target for thieves looking for checks, Norfleet said

“Some people noticed that some things they had mailed were not getting to their destination,” Norfleet said. “In particular, it is the check washing that people will see because it will hit their account where the name on the check will be different than who they wrote the check for.”

Postal inspectors were able to connect the vehicle the suspects used in the video with previous thefts at those mailboxes, officials said.

San Francisco has seen an uptick in postal workers being robbed of their keys in the last two years, according to Norfleet. However, it was still unclear how the suspects in Sunday’s bust got hold of the particular key used to unlock the boxes.

“Carriers have been robbed in this neighborhood for the past two years at least,” he said. “So there may be a connection between these guys and one of those robberies, but we can’t make that link yet.”

According to a March 2023 report, The Standard found that robberies involving postal workers rose nationally from 94 incidents in 2019 to 253 incidents in 2021. The postal service was unable to provide The Standard with any 2022 or 2023 data on Thursday.

In August 2023, three postal workers in San Francisco, the East Bay and South Bay were robbed in one week, putting hundreds of thousands of mail recipients at risk.

The Castro collection box location is one of the busier mail drop-off sites in San Francisco. Norfleet said the recent breaches potentially affected thousands of customers—though he did not have an exact number.

“It is a really busy box, and I think it has to do with that area of the Castro where there are a lot of people living there but also a lot of people running businesses and work-from-homers,” he said. “Frankly, that box on a weekend night is busier than what you might see in the Financial District.”

Norfleet said any resident who believes their mail was stolen from the 18th Street boxes in recent months should contact the United States Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.

“If you used that box and are missing a piece of mail, that could be part of this investigation that we do want information for,” he said.