The special investigations team inside Uber, which fields complaints from riders and drivers, is not allowed to escalate those issues to law enforcement or file official police reports “even when they get confessions of felonies,” according to The Washington Post. They are also not allowed to advise victims or potential victims of crimes to seek legal counsel, according to the report, which was based on interviews with “more than 20 current and former investigators” who worked at Uber’s investigations unit in Arizona.
The investigators are also allegedly instructed to “first to protect Uber” and make sure it is “not held liable” for any crimes that are committed by people using the company’s ride-hailing platform. In that vein, the investigators told the paper that even the language they use when communicating with alleged victims is carefully worded to avoid the appearance that Uber is taking a side. The investigators also said they’re not supposed to specifically ask alleged perpetrators about claims against them.
Uber told the Post that it’s “the victim’s choice to report an incident to police,” a position the company tells The Verge it arrived at after consulting experts. That said, the company has started giving people the “option to allow [Uber] to contact law enforcement on their behalf” if the customer is reporting an incident that may be a crime, according to the Post.
“At the end of the day, we’re not the judge and jury to determine whether a crime has occurred,” Tracey Breeden, Uber’s global head of women’s safety, told the Post. “We’re here to gather information, make a business decision. We’re not law enforcement.”
In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson for Uber said the company has “made substantial investments in both the [special investigations] team and in our safety technology, policies and processes,” and that investigators “receive more targeted training based on years of guidance from experts in the field.”
“We are very proud of this team’s work and know they approach their jobs with tremendous compassion and understanding,” the spokesperson said. “Characterizing this team as anything but providing support to people after a difficult experience is just wrong. We will continue to put safety at the heart of everything we do and implement new approaches, based on expert guidance, to the benefit of both our customers and employees.”
Uber has long been criticized for how it handles (or doesn’t handle) crimes that take place during the rides that happen on its platform. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said a year ago that he wanted Uber to become the “safest transportation platform on the planet” during an event where the company rolled out a suite of new safety features.
But the Post report seems to show that Uber is still dealing with basic problems that it’s had for years, like how its “three-strikes” approach allows bad users to stay on the platform and harm other people in the process.
One reason bad actors apparently slip through this particular crack is that the special investigations team is made up of people who don’t have a lot of law enforcement experience, according to the Post report. Instead, some came from jobs like fry cook, cashier, or barista. (Uber tells The Verge that it has “continued to enhance the team by actively hiring experienced specialists from diverse backgrounds such as social services, crisis management and law enforcement, who can manage reports of more serious safety incidents and have gone through training on how to deal with difficult issues.”)
The investigators can also be overwhelmed with requests, according to the report, with often just “a few minutes” to talk to alleged victims and perpetrators. And in some cases, they’ve apparently been overruled by people above them. The Post relays an investigator’s account of how an Uber executive overruled a decision to remove a New York-area driver from the platform who had made sexual advances on three riders. That driver was allowed to continue working until a fourth rider claimed he raped her.