As part of a long-running P.R. campaign against dog bites, the post office earlier this month released its annual national list of the cities with the highest number of dog attacks on letter carriers last year. According to the USPS, Seattle tied with Detroit for No. 13, listing 28 dog attacks. Seeking public awareness, it is in the USPS’s interest to make the situation seem as bad as possible.
And as part of my long-running New To Seattle campaign against false statements, I filed my annual Freedom of Information Act request with the stamp honchos in the Other Washington for copies of the incident reports. Unlike previous years, where there were long delays and even a refusal in providing the requested documents until I filed an administrative appeal brimming with ridicule and won an apology, this year the bureaucrats coughed up the paperwork in barely a week.
Guess what? The USPS again exaggerated the number of letter carrier dog attacks in dog-happy Seattle by including incidents occurring outside the city. The level of exaggeration this time was 4% (two years ago, it was 17%, but last year it was none). On top of that, none of the incidents appeared to be serious and several didn’t even involve bites.
Nothing in the material the USPS puts online suggests the city-by-city count includes areas outside identified cities. Had the count accurately reflected municipal boundaries, Seattle would have recorded 27 incidents and by the USPS’s reckoning would have ranked No. 14 instead of No. 13. But aside from geographical confusion, I consider the way the USPS tallies this data to be dubious, for a reason I will explain below.
Using Google maps, I plotted the location of the 28 incidents on a street map. The address of one was in Normandy Park, a city to the south along Puget Sound that doesn’t even touch Seattle. So that pulled down the actual Seattle count to 27.
Another one also might have been outside Seattle city limits to the south, but the address on the incident report seemed to be nonexistent–rather amusing coming from the post office–so Seattle gets the benefit of the doubt. A third erroneously listed as the attack location a post office branch where the letter carrier was based, rendering accurate mapping impossible but making it unlikely the venue was outside Seattle.
Of that 27, at least two did not involve a real bite. In a incident in the Georgetown neighborhood, a carrier avoided a Doberman that was “barking viciously” by turning and running away. Another incident included among the 27 in West Seattle also didn’t involve a bite, but details were not provided.
I wrote recently about the questionable way that the USPS assigns numerical rankings to cities it hopes to shame. My analysis bears repeating.
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.
Counting the way normal people would count, Seattle would have been in a four-way tie for No. 17 (with Long Beach, Calif., Indianapolis and Baltimore), which is lower than No. 13.
Still, the fact that the Seattle PO hypes the number of dog attacks in the city doesn’t mean there were no dog attacks here. So which neighborhood was the most dangerous for carriers? For last year’s data set it was tony Queen Anne. This year there’s a different topper. Within a few days I’ll post my analysis along with another searchable map.
Meanwhile, remember this: You can’t teach an old post office new dog tricks.