The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) today began changing the master locks on WeHo apartment and condo buildings in an effort to curb break-ins by thieves carrying keys to those locks.
Mayor Lindsey Horvath announced the move at the City Council meeting tonight. Horvath said she met today with postal inspector Angela Ferris to discuss the rash of break-ins in recent months. WEHOville readers have reported at least 21 of them. Richard Maher, a spokesman for the USPS, told WEHOville in September that the postal service would begin changing master locks but did not say when the replacements would begin. “With the tens of thousands of locks in service, this will be a huge undertaking and will be done in phases,” Maher said.
Horvath said Ferris told her that the mail theft issue extends beyond West Hollywood and that Southern California has the highest incidence of such thefts in the country. Horvath said she was told that many of the break-ins aren’t the work of organized gangs but are carried out by drug users looking for cash.
Horvath said representatives of the U.S. Postal Service plan to attend community meetings to hear the concerns of local residents about the break-ins. She said the city’s public information office will work with the Postal Service to get information out about ways for residents to protect their mail. Those include checking the mail daily and putting a hold on mail delivery when one is traveling. Horvath said residents should call (877) 876-2455 to alert the U.S. Postal Inspection Service if they have information about mail thefts.
The break-ins reported by West Hollywood residents typically involve one or more people using a key to open the front door of an apartment or condo building and then using that key to open the panel that covers individual mail boxes. Such keys are known as master keys or arrow keys. The postal service requires apartment and condo buildings to install locks that can be opened by those master keys, which mail carriers take with them on their routes. A mail carrier is supposed to check out each master key and keep it attached to his or her body while working and then return it at the end of the shift. The break-ins apparently are the result of thefts of master keys.
The decision by the postal service to change the master locks and meet with local residents is a major shift from its previous practice of refusing to disclose any information about the thefts and what action it was taking to deal with them. Horvath has pressed the postal service to act on the thefts and asked U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents West Hollywood, to also intervene. It still is not clear what steps local post offices will take to better secure the keys on the new master locks so that another rash of thefts doesn’t occur.
The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station also has been involved in investigating the thefts. A resident of 906 North Doheny told WEHOville that Brian Hoepner, the crime analyst at the Sheriff’s station, told him that the break-ins appear to be organized by a crime ring that has access to post office master keys. That crime ring pays the various individuals who have appeared in apartment mailroom videos to steal the mail, Hoepner said. Those individuals then take the mail to the gang leaders. Hoepner reportedly said at least 14 people have been arrested in the mail thefts. Hoepner did not return a call from WEHOville for more information about the situation and those arrested.
The first community meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. at 906 N. Doheny Dr. at Cynthia on Jan. 12. Those attending will include representatives of the Sheriff’s Station, Public Safety staff, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and Mayor Horvath, if her schedule permits. The meeting is open to all WeHo residents.