Delivery in doubt

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The unofficial postal motto: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Stray dogs and bullets are another story entirely.

The U.S. Postal Service may cancel door-to-door mail delivery in certain Detroit neighborhoods where letter carriers regularly face vicious dogs, criminals and random gunfire.

Areas of Atlanta and Los Angeles have in the past experienced interruptions in mail service, but such a move is very rare, federal postal officials say. Detroiters in affected areas would have to drive to a secure location to pick up mail.

Detroit Postmaster Lloyd Wesley, who oversees postal service to 13 communities in metropolitan Detroit, including the Grosse Pointes, River Rouge, Ecorse and Redford, says the decision to stop service would be a last resort, but necessary to protect postal workers.

"Something must change," says Wesley. "And it needs to happen expeditiously."

Just last week, two mail trucks, parked and locked along delivery routes, were broken into. The thieves took all the mail. The robberies occurred on the day that federal assistance checks are delivered.

Wesley says most of Detroit’s 35 delivery zones and 800 routes are safe. But some are dangerous. The problem of roaming dogs is prevalent in eight delivery zones, but "the danger is spreading like cancer," he says. He says dog attacks on carriers are reported every day.

The problem is just as severe in Hamtramck and Highland Park, he says. Attacks on mail deliverers has increased as some neighborhoods have plummeted into crime and disrepair, such as the area around Seven Mile and Gratiot, says Wesley. He would not provide any further specifics on the danger zones.

Last year alone, four female workers were sexually assaulted; in each case, onlookers came to the carrier’s aid to prevent a rape.

"We’ve had carriers caught in between gunfire, hit from behind with a pipe," says Wesley. "We’ve advised them not to carry money. We’ve advised them to take off wedding rings. We’ve had people who’ve had wedding rings stolen. We’ve advised them to look as dull as possible."

Wesley notified Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of the onslaught in November. The mayor passed the matter to Police Chief Jerry Oliver. Wesley says despite a meeting with Oliver in December, and the assignment of a deputy police chief to work on the matter, nothing has been done. Wesley sends weekly reports of violence to the Police Department.

"I have not received one sentence as to what they’re doing, concerning this situation," says Wesley. "I’ve sent them all this information, and I’ve not heard one thing back from them."

Neither Oliver nor his representatives responded to Metro Times phone calls or a fax seeking comment.

Mayoral spokesman Jamaine Dickens says he’s confident a solution can be found.

"It would be unfortunate for routes to shut down," says Dickens. "But I don’t think that’ll happen. I’m confident that we won’t get to that point. I don’t believe the letter carriers want to do that. I think they’re committed to delivering the mail. And the mayor certainly doesn’t want to see this happen."

Dickens says he’s not sure why immediate action wasn’t taken on Wesley’s reports, but says "we’re committed to resolving this issue. It’s an important one. It’s an issue that requires attention."

Wesley has the power to cancel home delivery.

"The Postal Service has the authority to protect the safety of the letter carriers," says Drew Von Bergen, spokesman for the National Association of Letter Carriers. "It’s rare, because it just doesn’t happen. It’s a judgment call regarding safety, particularly when there’s a pattern and it’s not being resolved."

Wesley is compiling data on the number and locations of attacks to determine which delivery routes he may shut down. To divert such a move, Wesley wants Detroit’s leaders to come together to fix the problems.

He says the solution is "a matter of will and intelligence."

"I want to work together to get the problem solved. Things are growing worse, and there is a need for various agencies to come together and bring resources together to get something fixed, not just for the postal workers, but for those living in the city. If that does not happen, my next step is outlined."

Wesley says he will send a full report to the mayor, the police chief, congressional representatives, federal postal officials and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in hopes of sparking action.

City Council President Maryann Mahaffey issued a memo to Chief Oliver and Detroit Health Department Director Noble Maseru this week urging them to address Wesley’s concerns. She says stopping any home delivery "could prove a particular burden for the many senior citizens who would have to leave their homes to retrieve incoming mail."

Ed Moore, spokesman for the Detroit Post Office, sees the situation as an emergency. Moore says every time a postal worker is bitten by a dog or encounters gunfire, it injures or endangers the person not just physically, but psychologically.

"Our employees deliver during horrendous conditions and situations. They understand the need for the mail to move through the system, and that people need to receive correspondence and mail. Very often, postal workers put their own safety on the line to perform daily duties," he says.

"Postal workers across the country deliver in dangerous conditions, where there’s dogs and crime. But it’s a serious enough issue here that we want people to take notice."

Moore says he hopes it won’t be necessary to discontinue delivery.

"People have always looked out for their letter carriers. We’re hoping we can return to that. We’ve always been there, not just delivering mail, but becoming friends with people. Sometimes the mail carrier becomes part of the family. The post office has a long history of delivering the mail, and we want to continue that tradition."

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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