WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. Postal Service police officers sued Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Monday for limiting their investigations of mail theft to only those that occur on agency property.
The Postal Police Officers Association argues the August 25 order — coming just one day after DeJoy testified to the House — violates the collective bargaining agreement between the union and USPS.
It was David Bowers, deputy chief inspector, who signed last month’s memo, “order[ing] its police officers to stop investigating and preventing mail theft and mail tampering, crimes against postal employees, and all community-policing efforts except within post office buildings.”
The lawsuit comes as the postmaster general draws alarm over organizational changes to the Postal Service that Democrats in Congress say will leave the country unprepared for this fall’s expected surge of mail-in ballots.
A USPS spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation but noted that the underlying issues raised in Monday’s complaint predate the appointment of DeJoy as postmaster general.
The union argues its members have protected the mail for decades, but the August order leaves their hands tied and risks an increase in criminal activity.
“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 complaint in Washington states. “The new policy puts PPOs and other postal employees in increased danger and increases the likelihood of criminal activity against Postal Service employees and the U.S. mail.”
Having already filed a grievance over the Aug. 25 order, the union seeks a court injunction pending possible arbitration.
Created in 1971, the Postal Police operate as a uniformed division under the Postal Service’s Inspection Service, tasked with protecting U.S. mail. The Inspection Service Press Office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The complaint notes that the Postal Service was training officers to investigate and enforce mail-theft laws on public streets as recently as January 2020. Just one month later, however, Deputy Chief Inspector of the Postal Service Craig Goldberg raised concern over whether they held any authority off USPS real estate.
“He speculated that if postal police officers lacked such authority, they might be exposing themselves to civil liability if they incorrectly exercised law-enforcement authority,” the complaint states. “Despite this assertion, the Postal Service continued to routinely assign postal police officers to law-enforcement duties off postal real estate in support of mail protection or protection of postal personnel.”
Postal police officers typically work around the cloak — unlike postal inspectors who work 9-to-5 shifts — but they are being held at their stations under the recent order.
“Their off-site mobile patrols are going undone,” the complaint warns. “Because of this abrupt policy change, in many places, the U.S. mail and postal personnel are receiving less protection.”
The union claims that courts have routinely backed the authority of Postal Service officers to protect mail and mail in transit, as well as their other law-enforcement tasks.
Back in 2016, a federal judge in Massachusetts found credible testimony from USPS managers that the officers had increasingly focused on protecting mail and postal employees offsite, since President George W. Bush signed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act into law 10 years earlier.
The union does not appear to have contact information for the public.