05/02/2012 | By Travis Andersen | Boston Globe
Assaults on MBTA bus drivers and other employees are on the rise, officials said today outside a T board meeting, and transit police are fighting back.
Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, said 24 bus drivers were spat on last year, and 12 spitting incidents have already been reported in 2012.
Including the spitting incidents, there have been 29 assaults on T workers this year, compared to 22 assaults at this time last year, said Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan.
“I think some of it stems around fare collection,” said acting MBTA general manager Jonathan Davis, adding that assaults on T workers are unacceptable and the majority of customers behave appropriately.
In an effort to crack down on spitting, T officials have so far collected saliva samples of four suspects from drivers who were assaulted, under a program launched last fall, said Joseph O’Connor, deputy transit police chief.
He said those samples have been sent to police crime labs to try to identify the suspects, who fled.
While they have not been identified, he said, the hope is that police can identify future suspects by collecting the DNA samples that they leave behind after fleeing.
O’Connor said T police worked with the Boston Carmen’s Union to develop the DNA program, since authorities also have to collect elimination samples from the assaulted drivers.
He said being spit on is not only degrading for drivers but also “does put into question, what have they been exposed to?”
O’Connor said transit police are also seeking a change to state law regarding the arrests of those who assault transit workers.
Under current law, authorities must summon suspects to court at a later date if the assault did not occur when officers were present.
Allowing officers to arrest suspects on buses and other T property, even if they did not actually witness the assault, would send the right message, O’Connor said.
“People should be able to see that there is immediate action in these types of cases,” he said.
In related news, transit police said a warrant had been issued for a recent case in which a man had allegedly spit on a bus driver. Rafael Guzman, 21, faces a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a public employee.
Transit police asked anyone with information regarding his whereabouts to contact investigators at 617-222-1050 or the intelligence unit at 617-222-1170.