Caught Red Envelope Handed--Should I Still Contact the Postal Inspector?
October 16, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Caught a young Netflix thief, got my DVD back. Should I still file a report with the postal inspector?

I called the police when I found out the movie had been stolen (possibly at the instigation of his mother or another female relative, according to the one of the witnesses). When a police officer came out, I explained that I just wanted the behavior to be nipped in the bud, and he talked to the parents, who seemed to think the situation was amusing.

A few minutes later, the officer left without taking a report. I mentioned to the parents that the kid wouldn't have liked the movie anyway since it was in a foreign language. The mother said yeah, they'd watched it! She claims he said he found it in their mailbox without a case.

Eventually, the kid came over with the DVD and an apology. Then he brought my ripped up red envelope and said sorry again.

However, another neighbor I spoke with today said she'd been missing DVDs, and mentioned that a third neighbor has lost mail, too. So there's a pattern of mail theft in my neighborhood, though I don't know if those victims reported their incidents. Also, the family is alleged to have various crime-related problems, so I'm paranoid about it all happening with more valuable mail and packages.

The officer wasn't interested in taking a police report, but I'm left wondering if I should contact the Postal Inspector, too. I saw a previous Ask and copied the form from there. My local post office was the one who told me to call the police.

I'm definitely shopping for a locking mailbox tomorrow.

posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IMO this is one of those things where the only people that can really effectively deal with it are the parents. Short of actually locking the kid up in juvenile detention, they're the only people that can actually create and enforce consequences that will deal with the behavior.

Until then, your instinct to make yourself a harder target is a good one.
posted by kavasa at 7:11 PM on October 16, 2010

I believe stealing mail is a federal offense - I'd file a report with the postal inspector, particularly if the police don't seem to be all that interested in taking action. And yes, the locking mailbox is a very good idea too.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:15 PM on October 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

If I were you, I would appreciate that the kid came over, returned the DVD and apologized...and use that to, maybe, connect with the kid and say hi once in a while.... an appropriate relationship with ethical, caring adult is the best thing a kid can have...

The police aren't going to do anything about this..they've bigger fish to fry...
posted by HuronBob at 7:16 PM on October 16, 2010 [11 favorites]

Call the postal inspector, I bet they watch a lot of movies their child "found."
posted by Max Power at 7:18 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

get your locked mailbox and let it go. Consider how unpleasant it will be if you have hostile neighbors.
posted by effluvia at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

The officer wasn't interested in taking a police report

But you said before the above:

When a police officer came out, I explained that I just wanted the behavior to be nipped in the bud

You are the complainant and you set the tone. If you had the told the officer, "My property was stolen and something needs to be done about it" I think you would have gotten a different result. You can not have it both ways.

And you know what? You got the DVD back. Probably, in no small part, b/c the cop had a nice talk with the family about stolen property and what happens if you are found in possession of it.

Also, are you certain a report was not filed? Though he should have verified with you your name (his dispatch may have given it to him prior to arrival) he may have jotted down the info on the juvenile and family while talking to them.

I don't know why you are assuming no report was filed. At a minimum there is a record of your call to the police and the disposition of the call from the officer that is stored on their internal system.
posted by mlis at 7:24 PM on October 16, 2010

he talked to the parents, who seemed to think the situation was amusing.

This is not good. In fact, it's really bad, and your allusions as to encouragement from authority figures is also a really bad sign. HuronBob's advice is spot-on, but I despair that the damage is probably already severe, unless you are willing and able to intervene to a much greater degree in this budding delinquent's life. So yeah, target harden, and since he made two trips (if I am reading this correctly) engaging him in a positive manner might ameliorate some of the poor parenting, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:30 PM on October 16, 2010

So right now, maybe the kid only takes the occasional DVD because his mom told him to. What's next? Credit card offers? What else is being stolen out of your and your neighbors' mailboxes that you don't know about?
posted by rtha at 7:38 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cops aren't social workers, and the justice system is in no way rehabilitative. At their best, they temporarily isolate dangerous criminals from society. At their worst, they take misbehaving kids and transform them into unemployable ex-cons. Your instincts are right: nothing good can come of making a Federal case out of this.

This is a nuisance-level property crime. Bringing in guys with guns to put your neighbors in a cage isn't called for. Connecting with your neighbors to build a sense of community will do more for crime prevention than the police ever could.
posted by Dimpy at 7:50 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

nth'ng calling the postal inspectors/file a report, and nth'ng that this will just get worse. Short term yes, get a locking mailbox. Being a "nice neighbor" is all good and fine, but...
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:51 PM on October 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, report the theft of mail. Here's what you know: (1) the kid was likely being controlled by an adult and (2) other people are losing mail. This suggests that the kid's family, or others in your neighborhood, are systemically stealing mail. This is a problem because adults are likely to be targeting perceived valuables and not just doing it for kicks. If you value your ability to send and receive small things that are worth any substantial amount of money via USPS, you must put this on the radar and make it worthwhile for authorities to get involved.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:52 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

On behalf of The Rest Of Civilized Society, please do us a favor and pursue this at least a little further.

The goal is not to punish this kid; it's to make sure he realizes he lives in a world that doesn't take theft lightly. Say there's only a 1% chance that turning him in will successfully scare him into aborting what otherwise would have become a petty criminal career -- still worth the ten minutes it will take you to file the complaint.
posted by foursentences at 8:02 PM on October 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

My current approach to annoying neighborhood nuisances is to talk to random neighbors about it, especially the ones who sit outside all day. These activities seem to go away once I act all (non-aggressively) upset about it. E.g., "hey how are you? Getting a little sun this afternoon? {Conversation ensues.} Me? Yeah, pretty good, but I'm having kind of a bad day. Someone dumped a bunch of trash next to my car door and I had to move it all before I could get in. My clothes got all dirty and I was late to work for the second time this week! {look worried about being fired} Have they dumped trash around your fence or car? Do you know who is doing that? I wish I could just ask them to stop...{plaintive look} If you see anything, tell them they can just use the dumpster over there! {big smile} Yeah, well take it easy, enjoy your tan!"

I stumbled on this one once by accident and tried it again deliberately for a second success. These are mostly teenagers, and they seem to talk to everyone, so my theories are that either these girls take pity and ask the culprits to do right by me, or that the girls are part of it but just didn't really think about the impact on others. Don't know whether you could try something similar with your neighbors or if they're too gleeful about their mail-stealing ways. ("Yeah, I'm really worried that this important document hasn't come...")
posted by salvia at 8:24 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and another neighbor just deals with stuff he doesn't like by basically talking to people and appealing to logic. "Hey, look, you can do whatever you want, but this is my business place here. Your operation is causing me some problems. I don't want trouble and you don't want trouble, so why don't you just move your operation on up the block a little bit? You can do whatever you want but if you do it right here then it becomes a problem."

I guess the overall point of my two comments is that for these nuisance crimes, it's possible a little direct, respectful, non-stuffy conversation in whatever approach is most natural to you might be more expedient than relying on distant bureaucracy and law enforcement.
posted by salvia at 8:33 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think MLIS has it. I'd definitely raise hell if further stuff went missing, but you kind of already expressed that you just wanted it to stop. I'd wait a bit and see if it actually does stop.
posted by Menthol at 9:35 PM on October 16, 2010

My mail theft started with Netflix, moved up to the occasional package and then ID theft. File a Postal Inspector report, and change your mail location. The police aren't social workers, and neither are you. Maybe your fun-loving neighbors will respond to respectful conversation, but after someone tried to buy a flatscreen at Best Buy with my Mastercard, I stopped being concerned about the reaction of everyone else on my block.

Also, let your postal carrier know what's what. You want to make sure that he or she isn't blamed for your mail loss.

Get a postal box at the PO or at some Mailboxes, Inc. place. It costs money, but ID theft costs a lot more.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:54 PM on October 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

That, and lighting on fire a giant package that UPS delivered for him.

posted by mlis at 10:57 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could set up a webcam to record your mailbox. If it happens again, call the cops. They won't be so quick to walk away if you have it on video. And that kid will never go near it again if he thinks he's secretly being recorded.
iCam can be set up to record when it senses motion.
posted by WhiteWhale at 5:40 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my netflix movies were being stolen I called the postmaster and as far as I could tell all they did was tell the postal carrier to put them in my mailbox instead of on a table in the lobby of my apartment building. I don't think they made any effort to actually catch the thief. So I would think it's not worth reporting.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:02 AM on October 17, 2010

When the neighbors complained about their mail being stolen also, were they talking about a time before you spoke with the kid, or for sure afterwords?

Meaning: if the kid is still up to his antics, yes, call them. If you aren't sure, don't. You don't want to accidentally un-solve a problem you have already solved.
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on October 17, 2010

'Nthing get the Postal Inspectors involved.

Also, call the police chief, and express your concerns that it wasn't handled adequately. Ask for a copy of the report. The reason to get the PC involved is to make damn sure that a record is created of this delinquent's behavior, and his parents' complicity.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2010

This is NOT a "nuisance crime" and this is NOT "kids being kids."

This IS, in fact, a Federal Crime, generally called "Stealing from the Mails" and should ALWAYS be reported to the Postal Inspectors. They even have a handy Online Form for accomplishing this task. I urge you to complete that form and lobby your other affected neighbors to do the same. I cannot guarantee anything but I will bet you a goodly sum that the criminal behavior that is obviously being sanctioned by your adult neighbors will continue.

And shame on those of you who advocate not reporting a crime on the grounds that you reported something once and nothing was done. All that is required for criminals to thrive is an apathetic or cooperative population of compliant victims.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:38 AM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Hello. I spoke to the mail carrier today. He strongly encouraged me to fill out the complaint for the postal inspector and to get my neighbors to fill out the form for their incidents. The postal inspector is more likely to commit resources to intervening if several people complain.

So I printed out forms and talked to various neighbors. It turns out we have three mail thieves in the neighborhood and the father of the two children in my incident is allegedly a chronic thief of other items. And I saw one of his other kids break into his own house through a window when he was locked out today. He was quite adept at it in a way that means I'm never leaving home with my windows open again.

If the parents are being their Fagin, we neighbors can't be passive about it. Otherwise, the family will keep trying to take advantage of us. I've got my new lockable mailbox, the neighbors know they don't have to shrug off their losses, and maybe I'll be able to get over how the parents were laughing about their kids' 'accomplishments'.

The form only takes a few minutes to fill out. If the same kind of mail theft starts happening to you and your neighbors, I hope you fill it out, too.

Thanks for your insights.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:59 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

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