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Uber allegedly discourages staff from disclosing crime reports to police

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According to an investigation by The Washington Post, Uber’s special investigations team has been ordered “first to protect Uber” and forbidden from escalating reported crimes to law enforcement, while also having a lenient ‘three-strikes’ policy for offending drivers.

In the past three years, multiple reports have drawn attention to sexual abuse committed by Uber contractors, raising concerns about Uber’s background check process. In 2017, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission fined Uber $8.9m for allowing dozens of Colorado-based drivers with recent felonies to work for Uber - a fine which Uber contested and subsequently succeeded in in lowering.

Uber has an internal special investigations team dedicated to fielding complaints from both drivers and customers. However, a report from The Washington Post says that these investigators are not permitted to escalate complaints to the police, “even when they get confessions or felonies”.

According to the report, which was written after interviews with more than 20 current and former Uber investigators based in Arizona, the investigations team were told “first to protect Uber” and ensure that the company is not held liable for any potential crimes committed. They were allegedly instructed to carefully use language which did not indicate that Uber took a side on complaints and to avoid asking alleged culprits about claims made against them.

The Post suggests that other issues could be preventing dangerous contractors from being held to account, such as a ‘three-strikes’ approach which allows contractors to continue working for Uber despite having been reported for misconduct.

The report also says that the special investigations team is at least partially composed of people without law enforcement or investigative experience or training, such as people who were previously cashiers, fast food cooks and baristas. These people report having so much work to get through that they frequently have just minutes to speak with alleged victims and culprits. In one case recounted to the Post, an Uber executive overruled an investigator’s decision to remove an Uber driver who had made inappropriate sexual advances on three passengers. The driver was finally struck off after raping a fourth passenger.

Uber’s law enforcement guidelines state that they may provide “responsive information” to law enforcement to help during an emergency and that: “Once the emergency or exigency has passed, we require law enforcement to follow up with the appropriate legal process and we may require law enforcement to obtain appropriate legal process for any initial or additional disclosure.”

Uber told the Post that it had concluded after a consultation that it is “the victim’s choice to report an incident to police”, although it would begin offering complainants the option to allow Uber to contact law enforcement on their behalf if they report a crime.

“At the end of the day, we’re not the judge and jury to determine whether a crime has occurred, we’re here to gather information, make a business decision. We’re not law enforcement,” Tracey Breeden, Uber’s global head of women’s safety, told the Post.

Uber’s ride-sharing rival, Lyft, has also faced accusations that it has failed to take passenger safety seriously. Last week, the company was faced with at least five further legal cases alleging sexual assault, including rape, by Lyft drivers.

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