This is the scary season for the nation’s census takers.

Since they began making follow-up house calls in early May, census takers have encountered verbal abuse and flashes of violence. They have been shot at with pellet guns and hit by baseball bats. They have been confronted with pickaxes, crossbows and hammers.

So far, the Census Bureau has tallied 379 incidents involving assaults or threats on the nation’s 635,000 census workers, more than double the 181 recorded during the 2000 census. Weapons were used or threatened in a third of the cases.

Now, with just three weeks to go in the count’s door-knocking phase, the remaining households are the toughest.

While most homeowners have received census takers graciously, some say they have been surprised at the degree of anger exhibited by Americans who consider them the embodiment of intrusive government.

Douglas McDonald summoned police in Deltona, Fla., after a tug-of-war with an irate home-owner over a census form. The homeowner threw his ripped half in the toilet.


The retired Labor Department investigator said he wasn’t prepared for the level of anti-government fervor he encountered.

“There’s so much anger and bitterness, with people losing their homes and their jobs,” said McDonald, 70, who eventually quit. “They’re not too fond of the government. They don’t want to talk to you.”

Sherri Chesney, 46, said she was cursed and spat at during follow-up visits in Houston.

One day, a woman working in her garden said, “I don’t need the blankety-blank government snooping in my business,” when Chesney showed her census badge. Then she threw a metal patio table at Chesney, who escaped injury by ducking.

Chesney, who no longer works for the census, said, “It’s scary and dangerous, and it’s not worth my life.”

Census officials say they do not consider anti-government sentiment more widespread than usual this year. But Fernando Armstrong, the Philadelphia regional census director, said it seems to be more vociferous.


“It’s the degree of passion they have,” he said.

In some situations, the job turned unexpectedly dangerous, as for the Baltimore crew leader who was fatally shot seven times while sitting in his car.

Other workers were beset by mean-tempered animals. Wendy Soto, who was knocking on doors in California, still can’t move two fingers after being attacked by a pit bull that pushed open a security door.

Soto believes census takers should be permitted to carry weapons, such as pepper spray, to ward off harm.

Steven Jost, a Census Bureau spokesman, said it is unlikely that census workers will be allowed to carry weapons. After the 2010 census is completed, officials will examine all incidents to determine whether changes are needed to reduce risks, for both workers and the public. The number of verified incidents may go down after analysis.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.