Bounty hunters, or bail enforcement agents, track down and return individuals who are fugitives from justice. People who get arrested are often given the opportunity to post bail money so they can go free while waiting for a hearing or trial. When these people post the bail money, they are promising that they will return on the assigned court date. If they don’t return on that date, they lose their bail money (or the bail bondsman loses his) and they become fugitives from justice. Bounty hunters spend time researching and interviewing to get leads on the person they are tracking. Thousands of bounty hunters work in the United States today, and last year they accounted for 30,000 arrests, according to the National Institute of Bail Enforcement.
The history of the bail process dates back to English common law. People who were charged with crimes against the king were allowed to go free if someone else guaranteed that the individual would return. If that didn’t hap pen, the person who guaranteed the return of the individual often had to pay the price instead. In America, this process continued but gave birth w the modern bail bondsman and bounty hunter, who worked together to ensure that accused people appeared for hearings, trials, and sentences. Specifically, bounty hunting grew as a profession during the westward expansion of the United States. Because fugitives would often run as far west as possible to get away from local law enforcement, bounty hunters were often found tracking lawbreakers in the Old West. Groups of men, called Rangers, were gathered to clean up areas of the West, such as Arizona and Texas, as they became part of the Union. These men would “range” over large territories tracking down and apprehending lawbreakers. Later, most bounty hunter activities were actually performed by marshals, sheriffs, and detectives. Today, bounty hunters flourish in our country providing a much-needed fugitive recovery service.
Bounty hunters work in conjunction with bail bondsmen and the court system. The scenario plays out as follows: An individual is arrested for breaking a law. The individual is given the chance to be freed from jail if he guarantees his presence in court on a certain date by posting a large amount of money Most people who are arrested don’t have these large sums of money on hand, so they enlist the services of a bail bondsman who provides the money to the court. The individual must pay the bondsman a fee—usually 10 percent of the actual posted bond. If the individual does not show up on the court date, the bondsman can either try to bring the person in or hire a bounty hunter to track the person down. The bounty hunter is paid only if the fugitive is returned to court.
After the bounty hunter is on the case, the main goal is to locate the fugitive as quickly and as safely as possible. Although the timeframe varies from state to state and court to court, bounty hunters usually have 90 days at the most to bring back the fugitive. Locating a fugitive requires research, detection, and law enforcement skills. “Most of the time it takes time and patience,” explains bail enforcement agent, John Jones. “Many days of interviewing people, tracing paper trails, sitting in vehicles for countless hours of surveillance, just to await that moment to re-arrest this individual. Bounty hunters can use almost any means possible to re-arrest a fugitive. In most states they can enter the homes of fugitives if they believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the fugitive is inside. Sometimes the bounty hunter will interview family members or check the trash at the fugitive’s home to find a clue as to where he or she has gone. Most bounty hunters use weapons to persuade a fugitive to return peacefully and to protect themselves. “The field can also be very dangerous,” Jones cautions. “Getting shot at, knifed, and even fighting is not uncommon.” Alter the Fugitive is found, the bounty hunter makes a private arrest of the individual and takes the fugitive back to jail to await trial. “This process of retrieval can be easy sometimes and hard others,” Jones adds. Although most bounty hunters re-arrest the fugitive themselves, some locate the fugitive and then alert the local law officials to make the actual arrest.
Bounty hunting is not all tracking people and bringing them back alive, however. Bounty hunting is a business, and like any other business, it must be run efficiently Bounty hunters must be able to advertise their services to become part of as many bail bondsmen “networks” as possible. Some bonds men work with just a select few bounty hunters, while others send out their fugitive recovery requests to large networks of bounty hunters who compete against each other to bring back the fugitive. Because bounty hunters only get paid if they bring the person back, care must be taken to use resources wisely Bounty hunters who spend $1,000 finding a fugitive that’s only worth $750 won’t be in business long. Besides monetary resources, many bounty hunters have research assistants who work for them. Bounty hunters must be able to manage their employees in these situations. Bounty hunters also often work under contracts with law enforcement or bail bondsmen. They must be able to draw up contracts and be well-informed of all the legal aspects of those contracts.
Although you won’t find a class at school called Bounty Hunting 101, there are some courses that can help you prepare for a job in this field. Classes in government, political science, communication, and business will help you prepare for the legal and business side of bounty hunting. If you have the opportunity to take self-defense or martial arts courses, they can give you skills sometimes necessary in the actual apprehension of the fugitive. Foreign languages may come in handy as well, depending on the area of the country where you may be working.
You are not required to have any college training to be a bounty hunter. However, training is important fir success and safety us a ball enforcement agent. “One way or another, you should have at least some sort of training in law enforcement and criminal justice,” Jones recommends. If a college degree or vocational school is in your future, aim for criminal justice studies or police academy training. If you want to focus immediately on bail enforcement, some training opportunities are available. The National Institute of Bail Enforcement in Arizona provides a series of training seminars. The Bail Enforcement Agency in California also trains bail enforcement agents all over the country with classes taught by private investigators, SWAT team members, and fugitive recovery agents. For contact information on these pro grams see the list at the end of this article.
Certification or Licensing
Every state requires that bounty hunters be licensed. The qualifications and the extent of the license vary by state. General requirements for obtaining a license for bounty hunting include the following: be a citizen of the United States, have a valid driver’s license, have obtained a high school diploma, pass a background and police record check, submit to fingerprinting, and be of good overall health. After those general conditions are met, some states require the successful completion of a basic training program or a field-training program. Some states also require law enforcement training or a certification test. Check with your State Attorney General’s office to get specific information for your area of the country.
Bounty hunters must be able to handle high-stress situations that are often dangerous. Because of the nature of the work, the bounty hunter should be trained in the use of firearms and other weapons. Bounty hunters must be physically fit and able to defend themselves in a one-on-one situation.
Bounty hunting can he dangerous, so you may be wondering how you can explore the field without getting hurt. That’s a good question, but there are ways you can get an idea about the situations you would be encountering without being thrown into the thick of a fight. First, do some research. Contact your local and state authorities and ask for information about cur rent laws and how they affect bounty hunters. Now that you have that information under your belt, you can contact your local police and ask to go on a ride-along with the specific focus on the times officers assist bounty hunters. (This “assistance” is usually just sitting in the patrol car to further persuade the fugitive that this is the real thing.) You may get the chance to watch, from a safe distance, the bounty hunter in action. Some cities and counties also conduct “citizen police academies” that train the public on many police situations and safety issues. Enroll in any programs you can find that provide this kind of information and training. Contact a bail bondsman (you’ll find many listed in the phone book) and find out if they are also bounty hunters. Ask any questions you may have. Try to interview several bondsmen to get a more balanced view of what it’s like to work in the bail bonding and fugitive recovery business. As stated earlier, much of the bounty hunter’s time is spent running the business. Join any clubs at school that focus on business, such as Junior Achievement.
Most bounty hunters work independently. Many run their own businesses and contract their services to bail bondsmen and other individuals. Some bounty hunters are also bondsmen, and they combine the services into one business. These bounty hunters are part-timers, because most of their time is spent on bail bonding or investigating. “Some [ enforcement agents ] have their own companies, such as myself,” explains Jones. “However, a lot of agents work directly under the bondsman. The bondsman is our main source of work in either case. Bondsmen either hire bounty hunters on a case-by- case basis or they hire them as full- or part-time employees. Some bounty hunters are also hired by private individuals for other services, such as recovering missing persons, finding persons who are not paying child support, and uncovering insurance fraud.
Although most jail-enforcement agents own their own businesses, the majority start out working and learning the business from hail bondsmen or other bail enforcement agents. The best, most direct way to get started in the fugitive recovery field is to approach several bondsmen or bail enforcement agencies in your area. Most bounty hunters start out as research assistants or skip tracers. Skip tracers do the background and frontline interviewing to try to find the general location of the fugitive. The more training you have, the better chance you’ll have at landing that first job. You may have to start off in some form of law enforcement before you will be considered experienced or skilled enough to go into bounty hunting for a bondsman. Some starting points include jobs such as security guards, campus police, and researchers for private investigators.
Because most bail enforcement agents own their own agencies, they are at the top of their business with no higher position to be had. However, because of the competition within the fugitive recovery field, there is a drive to be the “best of the best” and have the highest fugitive recovery rate. Bail enforcement agents want to be able to maintain and advertise a very high rate of return and the best and highest paid in the field produce over 90 percent of the fugitives they track. Many bail enforcement agents chase the goal of perfection as strongly as they chase each fugitive.
Bounty hunters who work for other bail enforcement agents or bonds men can work toward owning their own agency. Usually success in tracking down fugitives is the path toward the recognition and marketability that are necessary to start a new fugitive recovery business.
Bounty hunters who start their own businesses should expect to lose money at the beginning, according to the Fugitive Apprehension Select Team in Missouri. The bounty hunting business, like any other, takes time to develop. The National Center for Policy Analysis states that beginning bounty hunters earn $20 per year, while more established bounty hunters, and business owners, can earn over $30,000 per year.
Most hail enforcement agents do not receive medical benefits. A few who work for well-established agencies may receive some types of benefits, but its not the norm for the field. “In this business, sometimes it is slow or there is no business and there are lengthy times in between paychecks. There are also no benefits like pensions, insurance, or things of that nature in most cases,” says Jones.
Bounty hunters spend much of their time traveling in search of a fugitive or waiting for hours for a fugitive to appear. Because apprehending a fugitive is easiest in the middle of the night or early morning, the bounty hunter keeps odd hours and may work especially long hours when close to capturing a fugitive. A bail enforcement agent works on an as-needed basis, so there may be stretches of inactivity depending on the bondsman’s needs for service. The number of hours worked varies with the number of fugitives being sought at any one time and the amount of time remaining to bring the fugitive in. Bounty hunters are often in perilous situations where injury or even death is a possibility Jones describes bail enforcement as a “painstaking, unforgiving business.”
Employment for bounty hunters is increasing about as fast as the average for all other occupations, although this field has a narrow niche in the bail bonding business. Competition among bail enforcement agents continues to propel the field as a profession and as an asset to our legal system. Because private bail bonding and bail enforcement agents are working instead of public officials, there is no cost to the taxpayer for the apprehension of these fugitives. This private system’s success and lack of cost to local government bodes well for its future. In fact, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the fugitive rate for defendants out on private bail is under 1 per cent. Continued success rates like this and the ability of bail enforcement agents to work within the parameters of the law should keep this field stable in the future.
For information about fugitive recovery seminars, contact:
National Institute of Bail Enforcement
P.O. Box 32230
Tucson, AZ 85751
For training and recruiting information, contact:
Bail Enforcement Agency
3600 Clayton Road, Suite #B
Concord CA 94521
For information about bail enforcement in general, contact:
Georgia Association of Bail Enforcement Agents
5885 Cumming Highway
Building 108, Suite 350
Sugar Hill, GA 30518-5673
For certification and membership information, contact:
American Bail Enforcement Association, Inc.
(A division of The National Association of Investigative Specialists, Inc.)
PO Box 33244
Austin, TX 78764
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