Assaults on census workers up dramatically in 2010

To compile statistics for Census 2010, workers hit the streets to encourage Washington residents to report their information.
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 7:39 PM

Census workers were the targets of about 700 incidents of violence or threats this year, almost four times as many as were recorded during the 2000 Census, an official said Wednesday.

Robert M. Groves, director of the Census Bureau, said that there were only a few cases in which weapons were discharged. He estimated that census workers seeking information from people who didn't mail back their census forms in April had paid approximately 100 million visits to homes - a figure that includes multiple visits before census workers found anyone present. Groves said that statistically, the potential for violence was "fairly rare."

"Each is a horrible event," Groves added, speaking at the National Press Club while briefing reporters on how the census is winding down operations. "But in terms of risk, it's really quite rare."

Though the number of incidents is significantly higher than the 181 reported during the last census, officials have said that the comparison is less alarming than it appears. Not only is the population larger, but census officials believe workers this year were more aware of the potential threat, so they were more likely to report incidents.

Groves said workers visited about 700,000 homes that returned incomplete forms, costing taxpayers $42 million instead of the $31 million that had been budgeted. Return visits to 8.7 million homes that census workers noted were unoccupied cost $282 million, instead of the $244 million budgeted.

Just a small portion of the incomplete forms came from people who wrote down only the number of people living at an address, Groves said. Some critics of the census say they consider most of the 10 questions asked to be invasions of privacy.

Groves said it was impossible to say whether forms were incomplete because of simple mistakes or as a form of political statement. "But the numbers suggest that fears of a boycott never materialized." he said.

Field workers have completed nearly all of their tasks, though some remaining census workers are currently visiting about 187,000 households as part of an accuracy check.

By mid-October, the Census Bureau expects to have closed 128 of its 494 local offices, and it will close the rest by mid-November, Groves said.

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