Is USPS still miscounting dog attacks on letter carriers in Seattle?

letter carrier dog attacksAh, the rites of spring. Longer days. Warmer temps. Blooming flowers.

And publication of the annual United States Postal Service list of  “Top Dog Attack Rankings By City.”

Seattle–home to three dogs for every two children–fared a little worse this year over last. According to the USPS, the city was tied for No. 13 with Detroit. Last year, Seattle was No. 15 in a three-way tie (with Philadelphia and St. Louis). But both years, the number of reported dog attacks on letter carriers was the same: 28.

I say reported because, to put it bluntly, the USPS in previous years has had problems getting its numbers straight. It has counted as taking place in Seattle attacks that occurred outside the city and sometimes even on the other side of Puget Sound. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, that artificially swelled the Seattle attack count by 17%. Seattle was ranked in a tie for No. 2 but should have been No. 5.

Moreover, in the time I have been writing doggedly about this topic, the Postal Service has been slow or incomplete in providing paperwork documenting the count to me pursuant to my Freedom of Information Act request. In 2013, the delay was so long–six months–and so utterly lawless that I received a written apology from a top PO type in the Other Washington after I wrote an administrative appeal letter full of ridicule.

The Post Office has been on an anti-dog kick for decades and does what it can to focus attention on the issue of dog attacks. This is understandable. But in its zeal to generate media attention, the USPS gins up the numbers using other questionable methodologies beyond counting incidents outside a given city.

For openers, the annual count includes a large number of dog attacks in which no substantive contact was made between the dog and the body of a letter-carrier, let alone a bite. I know this from reviewing Seattle reports. This might account for as many as half the 5,767 incidents the USPS said took place nationally in the year ending September 30, 2014.

Then there is the somewhat bogus way the USPS assigns numerical rankings to cities. In most ranking schemes, when there’s a tie, the next rank is skipped. For instance, if there is a two-way tie for No. 6, the next entry is No. 8, not No. 7. But the USPS, in an effort to make things seem as utterly bad a possible, doesn’t skip ranks. Thus, this time, after Denver and Louisville were declared in a tie for No. 6 with 40 attacks each, St. Louis, the next worse city with 38 attacks, was listed as No. 7.

The result of all this rank inflation was that what the USPS in an official press release called its “top 30 dog attack city rankings” actually contained 80 cities (or more accurately, places, since several of the entries, like Jamaica, N.Y., and Flushing, N.Y., aren’t even cities at all but simply parts of Queens, one of the five counties in New York City). Still, from the USPS standpoint it would be a P.R. coup to generate local coverage ranking, say, Spokane in a tie for the scary, attention-grabbing rank of No. 30 when by my reckoning it really was in a 14-way tie for No. 67, which somehow doesn’t seem nearly so bad and is even a yawner.

Remember this math the next time the USPS seeks to increase the cost of a stamp.

In case you were wondering, No. 1 again was Los Angeles, with 74 attacks, followed by Houston with 62 and San Diego with 47.

So how accurate this time around was the USPS count in Seattle? I don’t know yet. But rest assured that the New To Seattle world headquarters already has filed its annual public-records request for the underlying documents. For a future post, the idea will be both to examine the tally and to figure out whether Queen Anne repeated as Seattle’s most dog-dangerous neighborhood for letter-carriers.

You might call the request one of my rights of spring.

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