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New York City Mulling Using DNA To Catch Riders Who Spit On Bus Drivers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- This crime was once considered rare: New York City bus drivers assaulted by people who spit on them.

But it's so commonplace today, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering a plan to collect saliva samples from the scene of each disgusting crime to catch the spitters, reports CBS 2's Dave Carlin.

It happened to bus driver Lesley Davis. She was attacked by a young woman rider who did not like being told to stand behind the line.

"She would leave me a gift before she left the bus. She spit on me," Davis said. "I felt violated."

The MTA has confirmed incidents of spitting on transit workers, usually on buses but also on trains, are happening about 14 times every month.

"He was stepping off the bus, turned around and spit at me," bus driver Jorge Medrano said.

"How can this be happening on the bus?" West Side resident Valerie Medina wondered.

The MTA is considering a DNA initiative, patterned after one in Boston. With every driver getting a kit to collect samples.

"Opens up the package, swabs the area," John Jay College forensics expert Lawrence Kobilinsky told Carlin.

Kobilinsky said after the sample goes to the lab, the results can be run through a database of convicted felons. Or if a suspect is found some other way, a DNA match can send the spitter to the slammer.

"If one or two get caught this way it would send out a shockwave amongst the public and they would stop this disgusting act," said Transit Workers Union spokesman Richard Fields.

Some bus riders said they are skeptical about the plan because they are worried about the cost and wonder if the money could be better spent on cameras for each bus and partitions to protect the drivers.

"A lot of money being wasted on things like this and not on really solving the problem of stopping before it actually happens," Harlem resident Walter Koch said.

"We put our lives in their hands, basically, and we should pay attention to them and their needs," added Tom Healey of Riverdale.

MTA workers said they want the new shields, cameras and the DNA, all of it to lick this sickening crime pattern and make their jobs safer.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office is pushing for the plan, and confirmed that the samples would be handled by the same labs that test DNA in rape and murder cases. The DA's spokesman said the additional cases would not overwhelm the system.

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