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Uber defends driver screening in wake of Kalamazoo mass shooting

Uber defends driver screening in wake of Kalamazoo mass shooting


It has no plans to change the screening process

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Jason Dalton, the Uber driver who shot and killed six people and injured two in Kalamazoo, Michigan Saturday had a 4.73 driver rating and had completed over 100 trips since being cleared by the ride-hail company's screening process less than a month ago, Uber said Monday.

Dalton, 45, reportedly confessed to the killings today. The shooting spree allegedly took place while Dalton was picking up and dropping off passengers for Uber. In a conference call with reporters Monday, Uber officials confirmed that several of Dalton's passengers complained about "dangerous and erratic driving" on the day of the shooting. They defended their system of background checks, and batted back suggestions that a "panic button" in the app for contacting police would have made a difference.

"Overall his rating was good"

"As the local police have made clear, the perpetrator had no criminal record, and if there's nothing on someone's record, then no background check would raise a flag," said Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Uber. The company deactivates drivers after receiving reports of violence, but allows drivers who are said to be driving dangerously to stay on the platform until such reports can be checked out, he said.

Sullivan touted Uber's feature of allowing riders to rate drivers, as well as share GPS data from their trip with family or friends, as sufficient safety precautions and argued that it was virtually impossible to detect or protect against the Kalamazoo shooter's intentions. The New York Daily News reported that Dalton had racked up nine driving violations since 1990, mostly for speeding, but hadn't been ticketed for anything since 2006. Sullivan said his 4.73 rating contradicted reports that Dalton had been driving erratically in the weeks before the shooting. "Overall his rating was good," Sullivan said.

There's no question that the Kalamazoo shootings represent the most high-profile crime committed by an Uber driver in the company's six-year history. It also represents a unique challenge to Uber's system for screening and approving drivers, which has been criticized by some law enforcement officials as insufficient. Uber outsources its background checks to a company called Checkr, which is nationally accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

Drivers are required to submit their full name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, a copy of their driver's license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection before they can start driving for Uber. The ride-hail company does not collect fingerprints from drivers, nor does it require any face-to-face interaction with drivers before allowing them to start accepting fares.

"the system that Uber has is extremely safe"

Ed Davis, the former commissioner of the Boston Police Department and a member of Uber's safety advisory board, argued that adding a human layer to Uber's background check process was ultimately unnecessary. "As it stands right now, the system that Uber has is extremely safe," he said. "The idea that simply having someone look at someone, they could determine if they're about to have a psychotic episode is a faulty theory."

In India, Uber added a panic button to its app for contacting law enforcement, and was reportedly considering rolling out a similar feature in Chicago, but Sullivan dismissed those reports and said such a feature would needlessly conflict with 911. Earlier this month, it was reported that Uber had launched a pilot in Houston to track its drivers there using the accelerometer in their smartphones in an effort to curb dangerous behavior. Sullivan said if the pilot is successful, it can be expanded to other cities, but stopped short of saying it would be used to prevent future tragedies like this.

"It's every corporations' worst nightmare"

In addition to driving for Uber, Dalton was also an insurance adjuster. Asked why Uber was holding a press call on this shooting, but not the insurance industry, Uber safety advisory board member Margaret Richardson, a lawyer and former aide to ex-Attorney General Eric Holder, said the focus on Dalton's affiliations with Uber were "a distraction."

"It's every corporations' worst nightmare," she said. "And I do think in many ways this focus on Uber is a distraction from the availability of guns and guns perhaps in the hands of people who shouldn't have such easy access to them."