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Uber: 'Devastated' by Kalamazoo, Working With Authorities and Not Changing Its Policies

The company held a call with reporters on Monday.

Tasos Katopodis / Getty

On a Monday afternoon conference call with reporters, a group of Uber executives stressed that the company was “devastated” by the mass shooting committed this past weekend by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Mich., and added that the company had done all it could in working with law enforcement both before and after the capture of suspect Jason Dalton.

Chief Uber spokesperson Rachel Whetstone opened the call by saying that “our company has been heartbroken by this senseless violence,” and then introducing Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan, who was poached from Facebook last year.

Given the scrutiny on Uber’s background checks, which controversially do not use fingerprint scans, Sullivan opened his remarks by emphasizing that “as the local police have made clear, the perpetrator had no criminal record … past behavior may not indicate how people will behave in the future.”

Because Uber’s background checks couldn’t have caught Dalton, who had no record, Sullivan said that Uber does not plan to substantially change its safety and driver-screening practices going forward.

“We’re deeply committed to the safety of everyone on our platform … we have a clear policy that prohibits firearms in the vehicle,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think that we will change our screening processes of Uber drivers as a result of this incident.”

Though the company has “ongoing efforts from a tech standpoint,” Sullivan sharply denied that the company had plans to introduce something like the “panic” button that it has rolled out in markets outside the United States, like India.

Sullivan was joined on the call by two members of Uber’s Safety Advisory Board: Lawyer and ex-Justice Department official Margaret Richardson and former Boston police chief Mark Davis. Davis was particularly vocal about the limits of what Uber could do in emergency response situations. In response to a question about an Uber passenger’s call to 911 about Dalton’s erratic driving, Davis argued that 911 is always the most effective first responder in the U.S.

“You don’t want to confuse people about who they should be notifying. … you need to get police who … are close to the incident directly responding to it,” Davis said.

Background checks and what Uber could have possibly done to have caught Dalton ahead of or during the shootings were the dominant topic of the call, and Sullivan, Davis and Richardson all offered different reasons for why Uber’s screening process works just fine.

“No background checks process would have made a difference in this case because the person had no criminal history,” Sullivan suggested. “I disagree with the assertion that [a fingerprint check] is necessarily or could even be better than the process we have adopted.”

Davis added, “The system that Uber has is extremely safe. The idea that you could simply have someone look at someone, and that they could determine that they were about to have a psychotic episode, is a faulty theory.”

When Richardson chimed in, she made a direct connection to America’s lax gun control legislation, and noted the media scrutiny on Dalton’s work as an Uber driver instead of other jobs he has held (Progressive Insurance confirmed to the Detroit News that he used to work there).

“It could be every corporation’s worst nightmare. … 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,” Richardson said.

The company also revealed that Dalton had a 4.73 rating at the time of the shooting, which Sullivan described as “good.” Around the time the call was wrapping up, reports emerged that Dalton had confessed to committing the six shootings.

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