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MBTA officials say assaults on employees are on the rise

Spitting on MBTA bus drivers and other employees is on the rise, officials said Wednesday 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.

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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.

Officials say the number of spitting incidents and the possibility that spitting could transmit disease has led to an effort to crack down. Officials have so far collected a handful of saliva samples in an attempt to identify suspects who fled after spitting on employees, said Joseph O’Connor, deputy chief of the Transit Police. He said those samples have been sent to police crime labs, where investigators could check for matches among DNA samples already on file.

O’Connor said T police worked with the Boston Carmen’s Union to develop the DNA program, launched last fall, 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 the officers 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.

Transit Police said a warrant was issued in a case in which a man allegedly spat 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 that anyone with information regarding his whereabouts contact investigators at 617-222-1050 or the intelligence unit at 617-222-1170.

Also Wednesday, the T board discussed the commuter rail contract, which is up for renewal next year, in a closed session.

Davis, who is not a voting member but sits in on meetings in an advisory role, said future discussions will be public. He said Wednesday’s discussion was private to avoid compromising the process before posting a request for bids.

Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for the current contractor, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., said in a statement that the company will bid on the next contract, which takes affect in July 2013.

The company came under fire in winter 2011 for a slew of breakdowns that left thousands stranded on cold and snowy days, but Farmelant said Wednesday that the company has consistently achieved contractual “on-time performance goals’’ of 95 percent for close to nine years.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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