Senseless Assaults on Decent Public Servants

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

Every day somewhere in the U.S., a Census Bureau field interviewer is working on one of our sample surveys. This work asks her to locate specific addresses that our statisticians have chosen to form a scientific sample representing all households in the country. At the moment the addresses are sampled we know nothing about them other than their location. We ask the field interviewer to visit them, seek the participation of the household, administer a questionnaire, and return the answers for processing to produce the statistical information on how the country’s doing.

Although these statistical samples are small relative to the 117 million households in the country, all types of households fall in the samples, rich and poor, big and small, in safe and dangerous neighborhoods.

The work of our field representatives is the heart of our fulfilling the mission of offering the U.S. objective, accurate, nonpartisan statistics on the health and well-being of the country.

Just a few days ago a man was convicted of attacking one of our field interviewers with a baseball bat, and is currently awaiting sentencing for assault. In this case the interviewer was visiting a house to obtain an interview for the short form decennial census, a task that would have taken just a few minutes of the resident’s time. The homeowner became agitated when he realized that the interviewer was a Census Bureau worker. Witnesses confirm that the interviewer was attacked with a baseball bat outside the structure. I applaud the decision of the court.

Unfortunately, this is not the only incident of residents’ anger leading to assaults on our workers. In the 2010 decennial census, there were over 700 incidents of assaults on our interviewers. Many involved guns or other weapons. Some good people who perform this public service were physically harmed in the course of their work. [This sounds like a large number, but I must note that we probably visited houses about 100 million times during the decennial census, so the rate of incidents (700 / 100,000,000) is quite low.]

The low rate is partially a testament to the skills of our staff in dealing with the diverse situations they encounter. We attempt to update and improve the training periodically to stay current with what’s happening in the field. Making sure our staff has the necessary “street smarts” is an important obligation that we have as an employer.

Each unprovoked assault on our field staff is a personal tragedy and a blow to the Census Bureau family — one of us doing the public service we’re charged to perform for the country was attacked. I am outraged at these events. They should not happen.

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4 Responses to Senseless Assaults on Decent Public Servants

  1. Lanny says:

    As a mid-level public official, I can assure those not in the public sector that threats and attacks, both verbal and physical, are increasing. I have been assaulted in my own office, and I believe part of the cause of such actions is the dire state of our economy, and the desperation that ensues. However, even if that is a cause, it is not an excuse! The writer is totally correct; very few things give us an accurate profile of America and Americans as our Census apparatus does.

  2. Robert Ray says:

    In 2000 I worked as an enumerator in the Atlanta, Ga. area, and this year I worked in and around Compton, Ca. I must say that I personally did not encounter any serious opposition to my visiting thousands of homes for the purpose of obtaining information. I did hear of some problems but not as bad as what was described. I know that a great deal of time was spent educating the public that census workers would be knocking on doors and the reason for those visits. It is difficult to understand why some people would react the way they did.

  3. James Hill says:

    This work asks her to locate specific addresses Are all girls..??

  4. Kenneth Stock says:

    I was an enumerator for Census 2010. I worked in tow adjacent counties. I found that for the most part, people were cooperative. I had only one out right refusal in which the resident slammed the door in my face. Aside from that, no confrontations or negative behavior. I enjoyed the experience of Census 2010 working with my crew chief and other field reps. The bottom line is that you are selling the census and must be cordial and accommodating with the population that you are trying to reach.

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