Oakland Press Column: Current state law has no teeth against mail theft

Oakland Press Column: Current state law has no teeth against mail theft

By Sen. Jim Runestad
15th Senate District

Mail theft in Michigan is skyrocketing, largely unimpeded across the state. Crooks contemplating quick cash will pilfer mail-order drugs, packages to pawn and checks to alter.

While mail theft is a federal crime, it can only be prosecuted at the state level under simple larceny statutes. Roadside mail boxes and front porches are targets that offer criminals little risk of serving real time.

Excluding mail deliveries, everything of value on a property is usually locked up. However, a robber is charged the same by a state prosecutor for stealing a shovel as they are for stealing a check or a package. This opportunity for painless profit is increasingly exploited.

This disturbing reality became ever more apparent over the holiday season. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, mail theft is increasing dramatically. Last year alone there were 17,000 Amazon non-receipt complaints statewide. The December 2018 mail frenzy is expected to cap off a record year, with an unprecedented number of reports of missing packages.

Mail order prescription theft is also increasing, with one-quarter of all mail-order prescription thefts statewide originating in Oakland County. When non-receipt is localized in a specific area, local prosecutors can’t rely on federal enforcement. This is precisely why a state penalty for mail theft is needed.

The federal government is not prioritizing the investigation and prosecution of mail theft unless it also involves identity theft. Local prosecutors need a state tool to crack down on this unsavory practice. Over the last year I’ve worked with the Prosecuting Attorney Association of Michigan, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Michigan State Police, local law enforcement, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to seek solutions.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, in collaboration with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, recommended that Michigan state law mirror federal penalties to allow more options for state prosecution of mail theft crimes. Stealing mail is a federal felony, and if the feds don’t have the time to prosecute, we need a state penalty.

Sen. Peter Lucido and I have introduced Senate Bills 23 and 24 to put this new plan in place. Additionally, we are working with stakeholders to allow for mail theft crime rings to be prosecuted under the racketeering statute.

The increase in package deliveries by Amazon has given rise to an easy target for daylight crooks with no fear of serving federal time. Even with on-site camera security, federal law enforcement does not have the time to track down your deliveries. With no real way to lock up your mailbox or padlock your porch, state laws and penalties are the chief protection for social security checks and mail order prescriptions.

I’ll be working hard to get these penalties signed into law. In the meantime, have your own plan in place to check your mailbox regularly and pick up your mail as close to the time of delivery as possible. If mail is suspected missing, report it to your local police station immediately and be specific about what may have been stolen. Reporting mail theft is essential to impeding its spread.

This column appeared in the Oakland Press. Senator Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing the cities of Northville, Novi, Orchard Lake, South Lyon, Walled Lake and Wixom and the townships of Commerce, Lyon, Milford, Novi, West Bloomfield and White Lake.

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