Stupid Question ™
July 22, 1999
By John Ruch
Q: How can I become a bounty hunter?
—Couldn’t Make It Into WWF
A: People arrested for crimes can often go free pending trial with a bail bond—a contract in which the accused is released into another person’s custody on that person’s promise to pay a set sum to the court if the accused doesn’t appear for trial.
Bail bondsmen do this for a fee. If the accused doesn’t appear, they lose a lot of money (average bail nationwide is $1,000). They usually have a set time (30 days in Ohio) to deliver the accused back to court and still get their money back.
The bail bond contract puts the accused in the bondsman’s custody. He or his agents can therefore do almost anything to return the accused to court, including breaking into his home and arresting and imprisoning him.
Most bail-jumpers are brought in by the bondsmen themselves with a phone call. But for tougher cases, they can authorize a bounty hunter (more politely known as a bail enforcer or fugitive recoverer) to capture the accused.
Some states license bounty hunters; others outlaw them. But in most states, including Ohio, you only need to be of “suitable age and discretion” and be authorized by a bondsman to hunt a specific jumper. In fact, many bounty hunters have criminal records of their own.
Gary Turner, a bounty hunter in Cicero, Illinois, who runs an online bounty-hunter school, said he was a bored used-car salesman when he got into the business. After taking a course on basic laws and tracking techniques (also available in Rob Burton’s books “Bounty Hunter” and “Bail Enforcer”), and with only basic military and security work experience, he and his buddies sent out letters to local bondsmen until they got a job.
Most bondsmen still only look for basic military/police experience, size and intelligence. But concern over wild arrest tactics have led trade groups such as the United States Bail Enforcement Academy (USBEA) to lobby for training requirements to get rid of what it calls “Rambo bounty hunters.”
The USBEA dismisses most “bounty hunter schools” as simple book learning and “war stories.” New bounty hunter companies like Georgia’s Metro Bail Enforcement have FBI-level entry requirements.
In any case, a bounty hunter should have good people skills, tracking savvy, patience and complete understanding of bail law.
They should own a bulletproof vest, a variety of firearms, a surveillance vehicle (preferably a van), handcuffs, a police scanner and cell phones.
Bounty hunters generally early 10 to 15 percent of the bond amount, plus expenses. But Turner said the percentage goes up as the return deadline approaches. He said he recently made 50 percent on a fugitive he nabbed near Wrigley Field.
Metro Bail Enforcement actually offers low salaries—around $12,000—plus commissions.
However, very few bounty hunters work full-time; Turner still works the car lot as his day job.