Kalamazoo shootings: Reports reignite concerns over Uber safety mechanisms

The arrest of an Uber driver in Saturday's shooting spree – and reports that a passenger had previously attempted to alert the company to his erratic behavior – has raised renewed concerns about the company's vetting process.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
A man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco, Dec. 16, 2014. Uber says Jason Dalton, the man suspected of going on Saturday's western Michigan shooting rampage that left six people dead was one of its drivers.

The ride sharing service Uber has found itself at the center of an investigation into the shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Mich., that left six people dead over the weekend.

Police have arrested Jason Dalton, a former insurance adjuster who worked as a for-hire driver for Uber, in connection with the shootings that took place in parking lots outside an apartment building, a car dealership, and a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Police say Mr. Dalton opened fire at random, and are investigating whether he may have picked up passengers in the hours before, during, and after the shooting spree Saturday.

The attack has reignited concerns about the system the ride-share company uses to vet drivers and mechanisms for passengers to report questionable driver behavior. The company is currently fielding a series of legal challenges relating to its background checks and claims that its vetting procedures are "best in industry."

A spokesman for the company said that Dalton became a driver after he passed background tests, which critics say are administered by private screening services that don't have access to as much intel as local police. According to its website, Uber has an "extensive" driver screening process that includes a cross check with the National Sex Offender Public Website and a background check conducted by the investigation service Checkr.

But Kalamazoo police said Dalton had no criminal record, so it's unclear how Uber would have stopped him from driving.

In a statement, Uber’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan said on behalf of the company that they are "horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence.” The ride-hailing service has since offered to help authorities in their investigation.

Uber passenger Matt Mellen said he took a wild ride with Dalton about an hour before the first shooting was reported, WWMT news reports.

According to Mr. Mellen, Dalton sped through medians and drove across a lawn. After the car came to a stop, Mellen said he jumped out of the vehicle and tried to alert the company after talking to the police, but was unsuccessful.

Kalamazoo Police Chief Jeff Hadley was able to confirm that a man notified the police of an erratic Uber driver Saturday night, but told Reuters that the authorities were still looking into whether Dalton picked up Uber fares around the time of the shootings.

Meanwhile, Uber, a $50-billion business that operates in 380 cities around the world, faces renewed criticism for a myriad of business practices, such as its pricing formula that jacks up the service price during times of high demand and a knack for maneuvering around local regulations.

After several reported assaults involving an Uber driver or passenger have come to light in recent years, critics and competitors have also complained the company should do more to guarantee safety.

"I do think this is an outrageous incident that's going to draw more attention to this issue," said Dave Sutton, spokesman for "Who's Driving You," an organization in alliance with the taxi and limousine industry, which has been adversely affected by Uber, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Dalton is expected to be arraigned on Monday on charges of murder, assault, and firearms violations.

This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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