In a conference call with reporters today, Uber’s security chief stood by the company’s background check process after a man who drove for Uber was accused of killing six in a Kalamazoo, Michigan, shooting spree Saturday.
James B. Dalton, 45, was charged on Monday with six counts of murder, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder, and eight firearms charges. Uber officials acknowledged today that Dalton had been driving for the company since late January. Passengers have come forward to claim Dalton was their driver before, during, and after the rampage.
‘If there’s no criminal record, no background check is going to raise a flag.’ Joe Sullivan, Uber
Dalton reportedly had no criminal record. As a result, the company said, its background check process would not have identified him as a potential danger before the tragedy occurred.
“If there’s no criminal record, no background check is going to raise a flag,” Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Uber, said.
Dalton began to drive for Uber on January 25 and racked up slightly more than a hundred rides, company officials said. His average passenger rating was 4.73 out of a possible 5 stars.
Uber officials said the company would not change its background check process. Fingerprinting drivers, which some have argued is a more thorough identification process, would not have alerted them to what the shooter was about to do, the company said. Neither would vetting would-be drivers in person. “The idea that simply by having someone look at someone—that they could determine if they were about to have a psychotic episode—is a faulty theory,” Uber safety advisory board member Ed Davis said on the call, adding that such a process would be fraught with bias.
Distracting From the Real Issue
Instead, Uber highlighted the safety features it does offer customers, including a 24/7 incident response team. The company declined to say how big its response team is, or to offer a timeline of when it discovered the gunman was an Uber driver, citing the pending investigation.
In India, Uber is testing a panic button feature that it deployed in that country in the wake of allegations that an Uber driver raped a female passenger. Sullivan said that feature likely wouldn’t come to the US. “Everyone who has a smartphone here knows that you can easily engage in 911, and people know the number to call, and there’s a federal system behind it,” he said. Adding another emergency option into the mix could cause confusion, Sullivan said.
Uber is also testing programs to track driver behavior while they’re on the road, including using smartphone gyrometer data to double-check if drivers on its platform are speeding. On the call with reporters, Sullivan said these efforts were in their “early days” and that its engineering team would continue to develop more options so Uber could better address safety issues.
Ultimately, however, Uber officials said the focus on the company could divert from the real issue at hand.
“In many ways, this focus on Uber is a distraction from the availability of guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have access to them,” said Uber safety advisory board member Margaret Richardson.