We sat down with Mark Jones, a former foreign service officer who helps connect investigators across the U.S. and Canada with Uber records to solve crimes.

Share story

Seattle police have noticed a growing number of crimes involving Uber and Lyft drivers or passengers in recent years, a trend that comes with the companies’ exploding growth in the city.

The cases this year include an Uber driver who unknowingly shuttled a victim and suspects in a rape case, a man accused of fatally shooting his wife while taking an Uber in Queen Anne, and a driver suspected of groping a passenger on First Hill.

We sat down with Mark Jones, a West Seattle resident and former foreign service officer who works for Uber helping investigators across the U.S. and Canada access customer and driver data, via warrants or other court orders, to help solve crimes.

Safety tips for Uber, Lyft riders

• Use your phone to cross reference the driver’s profile with the vehicle once it arrives.

• Ride in the back seat.

• If you feel uncomfortable with some aspect of the ride, get out the car when it is safe to do so.

• And finally, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Seattle Police Department

Uber records, for example, helped investigators make arrests in the rape of a Kirkland woman.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

Both Uber and Lyft have been helpful to investigators, Seattle Police Department (SPD) spokesman Detective Patrick Michaud said in an email.

More than 14,000 Uber drivers and thousands of Lyft drivers operate in Seattle, the companies say. Some drivers work for both companies.

Jones joined Uber in April 2015, giving seminars to police from Hawaii to Wyoming to explain the type of data the company collects and how it can be shared with investigators. He leads two Uber law-enforcement liaisons.

He would not discuss specific cases, citing privacy and investigators’ ongoing work.

Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Describe to me your job.

A: The lead role is more around strategy and handling the broader issues across the United States and Canada from an initiative perspective. But the day-to-day job is largely my primary responsibility, which is proactive relationship-building with law-enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level.

Q: When you say “issues,” give me a taste of what those are.

A: It’s important to note that there are two sides to the law-enforcement operations team. On the liaison team, we are largely educating law enforcement on all of the kinds of data that we have, and how we can provide it routinely and on an emergency basis in the wake of an incident. That’s 85 percent of our job.

The remainder is helping to reactively educate law enforcement on a case-to-case basis if they need additional help explaining data that might speak to a resolution.

Q: Can you describe your background in law enforcement?

A: I started my career (2000-2002) with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as a special agent in a crimes against persons unit. I then transferred to a counterintelligence unit.

Then, from 2002 -2006, I went to the diplomatic security service, which is State Department’s law-enforcement and security arm, in a number of roles. I was an assistant regional security officer at the United States Embassy in Sarajevo. I was there for 2 ½ years, had different portfolios. I had an investigations portfolio. I had the guard force, and then my final role was doing protection for the ambassador.

Q: If you’re doing broad outreach for Uber, who is doing day-to-day work with Seattle police?

A: Our law-enforcement response team is back in San Francisco, doing the heavy lifting on pulling the data, basically the compliance piece, and so they — without getting into specific cases — are making sure that we’re fulfilling law-enforcement requests, so if we are served with a search warrant or subpoena or court order, that we’re complying.

Q: How big is the team?

A: Currently we’re 21, and we’re expanding.

Q: Is there a difference between the data that’s available to the public, journalists and law-enforcement agencies doing investigations?

A: We will always comply with valid, legal requests. But we’re very concerned about data privacy. If someone were to call up and say, “Hey, this is a missing person’s case and I’m frantic about it. I need to find my wife,” we’re going to be circumspect about providing data to an individual. But if law enforcement on a missing person’s case is asking for the same information, we’re able to comply.

(A spokesman for the company clarified: Drivers and riders on the app have limited access to the company’s information on customers, seeing only a first name, for example. But Uber fulfills police requests with full names and details.)

A: Do you use Uber?

Q: I do. I take the bus from time to time, but when it comes to ground transport, I use it exclusively.

We have, as a family, one car. We moved to San Francisco for a little bit and then moved back here, and when we came back, we opted to get rid of a car, and now I use Uber.

Editors note: This interview took place before Uber was found last week to have paid hackers to conceal data they obtained in a 2016 breach of 57 million customer and driver accounts.

Got an idea, question or suggestion for Traffic Lab?

Last week, we spotlighted the new path for walking and biking on Highway 520’s floating bridge, set to open in coming weeks. The week before, we highlighted momentum among transit leaders to diversify Puget Sound ferry service.

If you have a question or idea for us, send it to trafficlab@seattletimes.com. We may feature it in an upcoming column.