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Senseless Assaults on Decent Public Servants

Tue Jun 07 2011
Robert Groves
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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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