Crimes prompt Census Bureau to issue worker identification guidelines

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Three men who identified themselves as census workers barged into a house in Houston over the weekend and killed the owner, and the crime has prompted officials to offer advice on distinguishing census takers from impersonators.

In a separate incident, an Indiana census taker is accused of going to a home he visited last week and raping a woman, raising questions of how well he was screened before he was hired.

About 635,000 census takers have been hired for temporary jobs going door to door to count the 28 percent of Americans who did not return their mailed questionnaires.

In the 2000 Census, nine allegations of misconduct were lodged against 680,000 census takers, but only one resulted in a conviction of misdemeanor trespassing, according to the Census Bureau. There also were 180 assaults on census takers, including one involving a worker who died after being mauled by dogs.

In the Houston incident, three men forced their way into a home Saturday afternoon and stabbed the owner to death after tying up three other people and ransacking the house. The victim's son opened the door to them after they knocked and said they were there on behalf of the census. Police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said investigators suspect the house was targeted, and there have been no other reports suggesting an ongoing scam involving fake census takers.

In southern Indiana, near Bloomington, a census worker is accused of returning to a home he had visited earlier in the week and beating and raping a handicapped woman who lived there. According to the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Daniel Miller was charged with burglary and rape in the Saturday morning assault. Sheriff's deputies said that when they arrested Miller over the weekend, he said he had been working as a census taker for two weeks.

The Census Bureau confirmed Miller's hiring. Spokeswoman Eun K. Kim noted that all workers must pass background and FBI fingerprint checks, but she would not discuss Miller beyond saying that as of Monday, he no longer was employed by the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau has issued these guidelines for identifying its workers:

They will carry white badges with a Commerce Department watermark and blue writing. The badges do not have photos, and the Census Bureau does not release facsimiles of the badges. Legitimate census workers also will be carrying black canvas shoulder bags with the words "U.S. Census Bureau" written in white ink.

After introducing themselves, they will show a copy of a statement promising confidentiality. They also will have a brochure printed in 51 languages -- from Albanian to Yiddish -- asking whether anyone in the home speaks English and, if not, promising that someone will call in the language spoken there.

If asked, the census takers will offer a supervisor's phone number. Real census takers will ask only the 10 questions on the questionnaire.

They will not ask for Social Security numbers, financial information or immigration status. They will not request personal identification numbers or passwords, or ask for money. They are not allowed to enter the homes they visit.

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