ROSENDALE – A United States 2010 Census Bureau Quality Assurance fieldworker was involved in an altercation at a residence in Tillson on June 1, which then resulted in the bureau fieldworker being served with a "criminal summons for trespass." The fieldworker was then issued an appearance date of Wednesday, July 21, in Rosendale Town Justice Court.
Apparently, the fieldworker — who would speak to the Journal only on the condition that her name be withheld from publication — was performing a re-interview visit at a Rosendale home, and was requested by the homeowner to leave the property. The census fieldworker stated that she got back in her vehicle to finish filling out "refusal paperwork" and left the premises.
"I want these charges expunged from my record," said the fieldworker, "I was only doing my job — a 'no-response' is the only reason someone like me has to go at all."
But a statement by the homeowner in question tells a different story. The homeowner says that she told the fieldworker that she had already filled out the form, but was told by the fieldworker that this was a "follow-up" visit. When the homeowner refused to cooperate, asking the fieldworker to leave the premises, the fieldworker responded that she was a "federal officer" and that she would "sleep in her car in [the homeowner's] driveway" until the homeowner complied. The homeowner repeated her request that the fieldworker leave her property, and the latter "laughed at her," according to the statement. The incident took a total of 20-25 minutes, the statement says. The homeowner says that the fieldworker went so far as to suggest that the homeowner would be "wearing cuffs by the time this was over."
The fieldworker says that, two weeks after the altercation, she came home to find a Rosendale police vehicle blocking her driveway when she arrived home from work.
"I said 'Hi Officer, what's going on?' I had no idea he was coming to arrest me," she says. "The officer told me I was under arrest for criminal trespassing and handed me a summons signed by Justice Robert Vosper."
Chief Perry Soule of the Rosendale Police, however, said this was not an arrest. The officer was simply delivering a criminal summons from the justice court. Soule said that his office typically does not see complaints against census workers, and that these are referred to the justice court.
"At no point was she arrested by the Rosendale Police; it's the obligation of the police department to give a case, such as this, to the proper department. She was issued a criminal summons from the court, regarding a civilian complaint. We delivered the summons, but only as a courtesy to the court. So, she was not arrested by us, she does not show as being arrested in our system, and she is simply mistaken," Soule explained.
"We will entertain anyone's complaint and investigate it, and if we feel an arrest is not proper, we give it to the court and let them review it. They can drop it or issue a summons if they feel the complaint is a valid one," Soule said.
Soule felt this particular complaint needed to be handed over to the justice court for review. It was not in the hands of the Rosendale Police, other than the eventual delivery of the criminal summons. Soule also stated that he called the Boston U.S. Census office, which has jurisdiction over the Hudson Valley environs, to give the census worker the benefit of the doubt and to find out the exact rules for census worker property visits.
The Rosendale Justice Court reviewed the complaint and found it to be valid and issued a criminal summons signed by Justice Robert Vosper.
According to an online manual for census enumerator training, "Non-response Follow-up Re-Interview" workers are part of the United States Census Quality Assurance team. They are called in only after a residential household does not send in a completed census or respond to three forms of communication. Many times these are second home owners and other times it can be residents who are opposed to giving out information.
A representative from the Pawling Census office said, "We have spoken with the Rosendale Police and the Town Supervisor [Patrick McDonough]. I believe they have been informed of the law more clearly now."
She explained that when a resident doesn't want to comply with a personal visit or is not at home, the field worker leaves a "Notice of Visit" card with a phone number to call in the census information.
The Pawling census representative stated, "If somebody is angry and does not want you on their property — typically what is said is 'okay, thank you very much.'" The fieldworker then gets off the property and calls a supervisor. The property owner is then either contacted by phone or a field worker can ask someone knowledgeable in the neighborhood how many occupants are in the home. That's really all we need to know."
The Pawling representative added, "They don't understand that we don't give any of the information to any other government agencies. It's actually for the citizens to make sure the congressional count is accurate and funds can be allocated correctly."
Steve Jost, a spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau said that he was not at liberty to offer any specifics on the case, but that he could speak in more general terms about the process.
"There's a provision in the law, Title XIII of the United States Code, that deals with the census," Jost says. "And that gives our enumerators the authority to go door-to-door."
Jost said that, in the entire history of the U.S. Census — which stretches back to the early eighteenth century — there has been one instance in which a census worker was convicted of trespassing.
"As far as our records go, we have one case," he said. "And, in that case, the Census Bureau paid the fine."
Jost did, however, provide a few facts about the current census operation. He said that the bureau had hired approximately 570,000 enumerators, and that there had been a total of 436 "incidents": 143 people had displayed weapons to an enumerator; 91 had been physically assaulted; 10 had been robbed, carjacked, or kidnapped; and there had been a total of 13 shootings.
Such incidents raise the question of whether anti-government sentiment — which has been regularly inflamed by talk radio hosts and even a few elected officials — may have something to do with at least some of the 436 incidents of which Jost spoke. He added that this particular census was not "difficult," however; and that 72 percent of Americans had cooperated with this census, matching the figure from the census that was conducted in 2000.
Regardless of the cause of the Rosendale incident, Jost said that the Census Bureau does take such encounters very seriously.
"We couldn't fulfill our constitutional mission if our employees couldn't go door-to-door," he said. "It is very serious to us."