Pursuing Rogues and Robbers

During World War I, the need for military postal facilities was decided by inspectors, who also investigated the loyalty of potential employees and possible violators of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. After the war and through the 1930s, inspectors contended with an increase in mail robberies by armed gangs. Thefts became so numerous that, in 1921, about 50,000 surplus military firearms were distributed to railway postal clerks. In 1921 and again in 1926, thousands of U.S. Marines guarded valuable mail at vulnerable points throughout the country, as identified by inspectors. Two of the most notorious train robberies were the botched robbery at Siskiyou, Oregon, in 1923, and a well-planned heist at Rondout, Illinois, in 1924. Inspectors doggedly investigated each case and eventually saw the thieves convicted.

Meanwhile, inspectors continued protecting the public from evolving consumer fraud. In 1920 they investigated and helped convict Charles Ponzi, the father of illegal pyramid schemes, who filched millions of dollars from the public for supposed investments.66

During World War II, inspectors served as liaisons between civilian and military postal facilities, regularly inspecting both types of facilities to ensure prompt, secure handling of mail, investigating complaints of theft, and helping military authorities identify the guilty parties.

In 1954, the title “postal inspector” was first officially used.

The 1950s saw a rise in illegal drug use, a significant factor in postal crime. By 1954, about half of all non-postal mail thieves in the New York City area were addicts who stole checks from mailboxes to finance their habit. Illegal drug use affected the Post Office Department on another front as well: in 1967 Postmaster General Lawrence F. O’Brien noted an increase in the use of mail to transmit illegal drugs.67 The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 made it unlawful to use the mail “to transmit or facilitate the manufacture, distribution, disbursing or possession” of illegal drugs; postal inspectors immediately seized the initiative in pursuing offenders.68

The Security Force, the uniformed branch of the Postal Inspection Service, was formed in 1970. Primarily responsible for protecting people and property and keeping the peace on postal property, postal police officers, like other members of the Postal Inspection Service, also respond to natural and man-made disasters.