PHOENIX - The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is looking to beef up its ranks of criminal investigators to combat identity theft and other crimes in Arizona.
The state's rapid population growth is fueling a rise in identity thefts, the most prevalent crime faced by postal inspectors here.
"Crime follows people, and Maricopa County is exploding with growth," Pete Zegarac, inspector in charge for the Postal Inspection Service in Arizona, Nevada and Utah, said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.
Growth in the three states prompted the creation of a new Phoenix-based division late last year that covers the three states, breaking away from their former division headquarters in Los Angeles.
The benefit for the three states is getting more resources to investigate mail theft, mail fraud, child exploitation and drug cases, Zegarac said.
Keeping up with growth is the Phoenix division's top challenge. A bigger population creates a larger workload for mail carriers and requires inspectors to take steps to prevent mail thefts, which are a source of money for methamphetamine addicts, Zegarac said.
As the Postal Inspection Service conducts a review on staffing and resource levels, Zegarac said he hopes to pick up more inspectors for Arizona and Nevada so they can have what they need to respond to the growth.
Another step the service took to confront identity theft and financial crimes was assembling a group of officers and prosecutors from various law enforcement agencies in Arizona to routinely swap notes on developing trends and search for common threads in their investigations, Zegarac said.
Since its formation in 2004, the group has made more than 300 arrests. Its members also have made 80 presentations to banks, chambers of commerce and other groups on preventing identity theft.
The group meetings allow officials to seek information from other agencies that might have a similar investigative target yet may not yet be aware of it. "Oftentimes, we were looking for the same people," Zegarac said.