Postmen Gather in Ocala

Published on June 10, 2024 | By Andy Fillmore, [email protected] / Photos by Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Letter carriers from Ocala and across the state gathered in the square in downtown Ocala on Sunday, June 9, to raise awareness of the need for protection and show support for legislation to increase protection and bring level the outdated locking technology known as “arrow keys”.

Mail carriers Pete Degelleke and Rene Aragon, from the Tampa area, drove to Ocala to join the rally and Cassie Cato-Bonilla traveled from Pensacola to show her support.

“It’s a significant problem. We deliver mail every day and we have become targets for package and mail theft (for use in) identity theft,” Degelleke said.

Rally attendees explained that letter carriers are vulnerable to attacks by thieves looking to steal packages that may contain prescription drugs and mail that can be used for identity theft.

The rally saw about 20 members of the National Association of Rural Letter Carriers and national letter carrier unions come together for a roadside protest carrying signs with words such as “Enough is enough.” Some participants wore red shirts emblazoned with the words “Protect Our Postmen.”

Three members of the Ocala Police Department and two deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office were at the rally to show their support.

Dot Kelly, a rural mail carrier in Ocala, a member of the Florida RLCA and one of the organizers of the rally, said there have been about 2,000 incidents involving harassment or attacks on mail carriers nationwide since 2020 She said there have been at least two cases of crimes against local carriers in recent years and this one was a case of armed robbery reported by area media.

Kelly said the proposed legislation in H.R. 7629/S. 4356, known as the “Protect Our Mail Carriers Act,” aims to update dated-style “arrow keys,” or skeleton keys, with electronic key fobs that can be electronically canceled to deter their theft. Kelly said the arrow keys can be used by US Mail carriers to open “blue mailboxes” and individual mailboxes in groups, such as in apartment complexes.

The proposed legislation also calls for stronger investigations and prosecutions, as well as stricter penalties in cases of crimes against postal employees.

According to an NRLCA fact sheet distributed at the meeting, the U.S. Postal Service delivers “essential products such as prescription medications, packages, checks, ballots and other important mail to approximately 153 million homes six days a week.”

“(We) really need to be active. We’re not picketing, we’re asking for support,” Kelly told the group during his speech at the booth.

Diane Collins, NRLCA speaker at the rally, said after her speech that USPS mail carriers “have been there” for the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural Provine mail carrier Cosby, Jr. also drove from Tampa to Ocala for the rally.

“It’s a big deal,” he said.

Terry Baskin was a rural mail carrier in the Summerfield area for over 29 years. She said giving birth could be “dangerous work” physically and mentally.

Husband and wife Jennifer and Allen Brush of Marion County came to the rally to voice their concerns. Jennifer is an active rural mail carrier and Allen is retired after years of service.

Laura Klingelsmith, who served as a rural and urban mail carrier and clerk with the USPS, stood along Silver Springs Boulevard in the hot sun, holding a sign supporting the need to protect mail carriers. Many passing cars honked their horns in support of the sign-bearers. Tim Legge, a retired local mail carrier, also showed up at the rally.

Local postman Fred Hassen, who retired in 2015 after 24 years of service, said he was concerned about the outdated arrow keys and called them a “problem”, particularly because they can open “collection boxes neighborhood delivery service” seen in clusters in residential areas like apartment complexes.

Several postmen discussed that a stolen arrow key could be used to open perhaps 300 individual private mailboxes at local apartment complexes and steal private information, checks and more.

Jimmy Ruotolo, a municipal mail carrier here for 28 years, said an attack on one mail carrier is a concern for all mail carriers.