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‘Dragnet’ tackles mail theft

Jack Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday in the “Dragnet” radio and TV series.

More than 70 years before Project Safe Delivery and its focus on arrow key access and other postal theft-deterrent measures, a “Dragnet” episode from radio’s golden age shows that mail fraud isn’t a new problem.

In “The Big Mailman,” a based-on-a-true-story episode that originally aired in 1951, Sgt. Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, and U.S. Post Office Department Inspector Leo Smith team up to get to the bottom of a series of check forgeries.

As Friday and Smith confront thief Philip Holloway — who removed the front panel of a group mailbox to fashion his own key — he shows no remorse.

“There isn’t a lock in the world I can’t make a key for,” Holloway boasts to Smith.

“We’ve got one in mind you might have trouble with,” Smith zings back.

Today, USPS and the Postal Inspection Service are expanding their efforts to crack down on crimes involving the mail.

In addition to introducing a more secure, restricted process to control arrow locks and keys, which are used to access and secure collection boxes and other mail receptacles, these efforts include installing high-security blue collection boxes to make it more difficult for criminals to access the contents.

Other steps under Project Safe Delivery include preventing change-of-address fraud and defeating counterfeit postage.

The “Dragnet” episode aired this month as part of “The Big Broadcast,” a show based at WAMU-FM in Washington, DC, that replays gems from radio’s heyday.

Host Murray Horwitz leads into the episode by citing a recent Washington Post article about an increase in mail theft and how USPS and law enforcement agencies are stepping up their game.

“It turns out, it’s nothing new,” Horwitz said.