More than mailmen with guns

"The Inspection Service is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the country and has a reputation for quality investigations," explains U.S. Postal Inspector Lawrence Dukes Jr. "Inspectors get to work a variety of investigations, specializing in...

Any mail containing explosives or biological, chemical, or radiological substances is considered dangerous mail. Inspectors have special training and equipment to detect and prevent prohibited mailings, extortion and threats. In 2009, inspectors responded to 2,974 incidents involving unidentified suspicious powders and liquids. This resulted in 10 arrests and 12 convictions. The Dangerous Mail Investigations (DMI) Group works closely with homeland security and other agencies to reduce threats to the mail system, assure employees of a safe and secure workplace and reduce disruption in postal facilities. Effective response and screening assisted in reducing facility evacuations by 29.6 percent from 2008 to 2009. Also in 2009, 323 postal inspectors met OSHA requirements for hazardous waste operations and emergency response certification. DMI also responds to suspicious items in the mail, such as improvised explosive devices. Inspectors responded to 1,381 incidents of explosive devices placed in mail receptacles, hoax bomb devices, suspicious items found in postal facilities or equipment and mailed explosive devices resulting in 59 arrests and 34 convictions in 2009. Also in 2009, inspectors worked with ATF agents to uncover the trafficking of more than 200 weapons.

Drug trafficking is another concern postal inspectors work to reduce due to related violence and to preserve the integrity of the mail. Working with other law enforcement agencies, postal inspectors arrested 1,278 suspects in 2009 resulting in the seizure of approximately $4.9 million in cash and monetary instruments, 45,964 pounds of illegal narcotics, three firearms and three vehicles.


A security force of armed, uniformed Postal Police Officers (PPOs) are assigned to critical postal facilities throughout the country to provide perimeter security, escort high-value mail shipments and perform other essential protective functions. When New York Jeweler Harry Winston donated the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond to the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., he utilized USPS to ship it. "Based on certain factors related to the mailing, enhanced security measures are sometimes provided," explains Dukes. "It depends on the value and type of shipment if it would need additional security."

Scanning machines

DMIs utilize hazmat field screening equipment. Since 2003, 201 sets of equipment have been deployed and installed to screen unidentified substances found in the mail. Only 305 postal inspectors are certified DMIs. Equipment can also be deployed to National Special Security Events, such as presidential and political events, Olympic Games, Super Bowls and various other gatherings. Working with other agencies assigned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Special Events Working Group, postal inspectors assist by screening mail at a transportable Mobile Mail Screening Station and utilize vans equipped with X-ray units and field-screening equipment. In 2009, postal inspectors screened mail at 17 events, including Super Bowl XLII and the G-20 Economic Summit.
"To help counter the threat of dangerous biological in the mail, the Postal Service developed the Biohazard Detection System (BDS)," Dukes says. "BDS is a technology that combines both automated air sampling with an internal, automated testing system using DNA analysis to detect dangerous biological agents in the mail stream with extremely high reliability."

Other facilities

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service operates two National Law Enforcement Communication Center facilities. Operators monitor intrusion-detection systems, coordinate emergency response and provide after-hours phone coverage for postal inspectors.

The agency also operates its own crime lab in Dulles, Va. The Inspection Service National Forensics Lab is fully accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board.
"The laboratory consists of latent fingerprints, digital evidence, physical science (controlled substances and chemicals) and questioned document and imaging sections," Dukes says.

The Inspection Service investigates many high profile cases, he explains, including investment fraudster Bernie Madoff, the anthrax mailings, "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, evangelist Jim Bakker, Wall Street inside-trader Ivan Boesky, hotel magnate and convicted tax-evader Leona Helmsley. "All have been convicted, at least in part, because of the work of postal inspectors," Dukes says.

This work has paid off and the Postal Inspection Service and its inspectors have received a variety of awards. Recently Attorney General Eric Holder presented the 2011 award for Outstanding Interdiction Strategy to William E.S. Beaty, postal inspector for the Seattle Division and Gary Nork, postal inspector for the Phoenix Division. In 2009, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's National Victim Witness Coordinator received the Federal Service Award. In the Ponemon Institute privacy trust study, the United States Postal Service was named "Most Trusted Government Agency" for the fifth year in a row in 2010.

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