Kyle Jensen / The Record Postal carrier Sam Wolfe drops off mail at the South Whidbey Fire/EMS Station 31 in Freeland. South Whidbey has seen a string of attempted mail thefts in the past few weeks.

Watch for mail, package thieves; holidays bring spike in mailbox crime, post office says

When Langley Police Chief Dave Marks issued a public warning on Facebook about a suspicious driver following a mail carrier on their Langley route Dec. 13, South Whidbey was given an all-too-familiar reminder to keep an eye on its mail.

But how much of an issue is stolen mail?

The incident in Langley, which happened in the area of Douglas and Herring Streets on the outskirts of Langley, is one of the latest in a string of stolen mail incidents or attempted mail thefts in the past few months on the South End. Marks was nearby when the call was received and tried to catch the culprit in the act, but Marks says the driver sped off once the carrier picked up the phone to dial 911. The car was reportedly “an older, white four-door sedan,” and Marks said he must have missed it by a minute.

“I happened to be driving in that direction anyways, so I was able to get to the call quickly,” Marks said. “Myself and a couple deputies searched but we weren’t able to find them.”

The Langley postmaster did not respond to numerous requests for comment by The Record.

Other incidents include a suspicious car waiting for mail in Clinton on Spinnaker Ridge Lane earlier this month and someone shining a flashlight into mailboxes on Maxwelton Road near Quade Road on Dec. 15. With shorter days and later delivery times due to the large amount of holiday mail, more suspicious activity is happening under dark skies.

Postmasters across South Whidbey have dealt with this problem regularly in past years, according to U.S. Postal Inspector Jeremy Leder, who investigates incidents in the greater Seattle area. It’s difficult, however, to put a number on those in a given area since carriers and residents report suspicious activity to various agencies, from police departments to their local post office.

“It’s definitely an issue, even year-round,” Leder said. “But around the holidays we try to get out more public information to educate people not to leave packages on their porch in anticipation of thieves.”

Greenbank Postmaster Gary Dela Cruz said that while he hasn’t seen any reports of incidents in the Greenbank area, he confirmed it’s an issue that his predecessors and colleagues have encountered, typically around the holiday season.

This is his first holiday season as the Greenbank postmaster.

“Right now as far as Greenbank goes, I haven’t heard any complaints,” Dela Cruz said. “But I know postmasters before me have seen quite a bit of it, and I know post offices elsewhere on South Whidbey have seen some suspicious activity this year. It seems to happen more during the holiday season when there are a lot of presents, gift cards and even money being shipped.”

For postal carrier Sam Wolfe, whose route covers Freeland west of Highway 525, this isn’t a new issue. Over his 15-year career, he’s encountered many suspicious characters. He says it comes in cycles; some years have less incidents and others have more. Wolfe says he believes the cyclical nature has to do with the same groups getting in and out of trouble.

“It seems to be the same people to me,” Wolfe said. “I wouldn’t say it’s rampant, but I start to recognize cars and people. Some years they’re around and other years I don’t see them. I would guess it depends on if they’re in trouble or not.”

The protocol for carriers when they spot suspicious activity is to immediately call the postal inspector, essentially police hired by each postal district, and then to contact local police. The post office sorts out mail to see who the missing mail belongs to before informing the customers of the incident.

Dela Cruz encouraged those who are concerned about the safety of their mail to either purchase a locking box or reserve a PO box, which he said is the safest option. Marks added that neighbors should keep an eye out for each other during the holiday season so everyone can be sure their presents arrived.

“I would suggest people to please keep an eye out for their mail and for their neighbor’s mail,” Marks said. “Talk to neighbors so if you see UPS set something on a neighbor’s porch and you know they aren’t home, bring it inside and give it to them when they get home.”