HUMBOLDT PARK — An attempted robbery on a postal worker in Humboldt Park last week has the letter carriers union worried that attacks are on the rise — particularly since the assault was one of three that happened in the city within a couple hours.
The attacks come just days after a postal worker was shot and killed in Maryland, and follows about half a dozen assaults on Chicago mail carriers in the previous two months.
"We're fearful that this can only get worse," said Mack Julion, president of the local branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
In last week's Humboldt Park attack, near Rockwell and Iowa streets, a postal worker was standing near her truck about 4:30 p.m. Friday when a man approached with an object in his pocket that he claimed was a gun.
He asked her for all the checks she had — mail theft often involves Social Security checks — and, when she insisted she had none, he grew frustrated and pushed her down to the ground.
She suffered minor injuries and was back on the job as of Wednesday, officials with the post office said.
Another postal worker was approached the same evening by another man with a gun who also demanded checks and fled when she, too, said she didn't have any.
A third mail carrier was robbed in Morgan Park after a man pointed a gun at her head then made off with her cash, keys and cell phone, he said.
Additionally, two men have been charged with stealing mail from a postal truck on Tuesday in the 2900 block of West Division Street in Humboldt Park.
"We're just as fair game as everybody else right now," said Julion. "I think the postal service needs to take a more proactive approach to keep their letter carriers safe."
Julion said one of the biggest problems is carriers delivering later into the evenings because they're starting later in the morning due to cutbacks and delays in mail sorting.
"We didn't have this as much when we were starting earlier," he said. "Carriers are starting as late as 8:30 when they used to start at 7. The sooner we get out there and get mail to our customers and get off the street I believe the less this will happen."
Mark Reynolds, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the post office is doing everything it can to keep its carriers safe, including rolling out the Carrier Protection Program, a joint effort between the post office and Chicago Police designed to offer additional protections for postal workers.
"The Carrier Protection Program is rolling out as fast as we can do it," said Reynolds, acknowledging charges from the union that the promised program was not yet being widely implemented. "We know how important it is to keep our carriers safe and this provides an added layer of protection."
The program involves recruiting residents willing to volunteer their homes as safe havens to mail carriers in the event of an emergency — be it an attack or simply severe weather — and also streamlines reporting crimes between the postal service, the postal police and Chicago police.
Julie Kenney, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — which oversees the postal police — said the program was rolled out in the Grand Crossing neighborhood in October and just last week in South Shore.
"I actually was with them when they canvassed the Grand Crossing area, and it was amazing how many people signed up," she said.
Volunteers then put special stickers in their windows to let mail carriers know it's a safe haven and generally keep a watch on postal workers to make sure they're OK.
Kenney said the program has been in place for a year and a half in Milwaukee and has been well received.
"It's been working very well," she said.
Officials did not know which neighborhood would be next to get the program, and Reynolds added that it can be slow going because of difficulties scheduling meetings between the post office and Chicago police.
In the meantime, Julion said any resident can help out in their own small way by simply being aware.
"When you see the truck that's out on the street, and you see the postal worker — you know, keep your eye out for them," he said.