graphic
graphic  
graphic
Small Business
graphic
Getting started: Bounty hunters
graphic October 15, 2001: 7:05 a.m. ET

Finding criminals is dangerous, sometimes profitable, and a good deed
By Staff Writer Hope Hamashige
graphic
graphic graphic
graphic
graphic
graphic       graphic
  • Getting started: Elvis - Oct. 8, 2001
  • Getting Started in the handbag business - Sept. 10, 2001
  • Getting started: Brewing - Aug. 27, 2001
  •  
    graphic
    graphic
    graphic       graphic
  • Chesapeake Group
  • Special Agency Services
  •  
    graphic
    NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - No matter how many times he pulls the old "Jack in the box" trick, it still makes Damien Scott smile. Permit me to explain in case you're not familiar with this ploy.

    It involves a rented truck, a man in a phony delivery company uniform, and one very large, very heavy cardboard box. The truck pulls up in front of a house. The guy in the uniform goes to the back of the truck and struggles to get the box onto a dolly. He takes it to the front door, knocks, says he has a delivery, and asks to see a piece of identification.

    At that point, a large man hidden inside the box jumps out and informs the duped recipient that he is being placed under arrest for jumping bail and is about to be turned over to the cops.

    "One of the good things about this job is you get to come up with creative tricks," said Scott, a bounty hunter in Las Vegas.

    Every arrest is a sale

    Purge your mind of the image of a gun-toting rogue engaged in a high-speed chase pursuing criminals whose faces appear on wanted posters. The modern-day bounty hunter spends more time in front of a computer and on the phone, locating bail jumpers and setting elaborate traps like these to catch them off guard.

    That is not to say there isn't an element of the old-style bounty hunter in the modern world. Yes, they get to carry guns. Yes, they can kick down doors. Most say, however, that violence of any kind has to be the last resort and carried out only in self-defense.

    Discourteous behavior and outright violence makes for lousy customer service and modern-day bounty hunters, like Scott, put quality customer relations at the top of their business agenda.

    "We take just about everyone we pick up out for a steak dinner before we turn them in," said Scott. "We are polite and courteous and make sure we take care of these people."

    Scott knows that may sound slightly off-kilter to the casual observer. But he insists it makes good business sense. Bounty hunting is both a referral business and a volume business.

      graphic
    Bounty hunters are contracted by bail bondsmen to bring in people who posted bail and then failed to appear on their court date. Getting these people back, without incident, is important to the bail bondsman, and Scott theorizes that if a criminal relates to his bondsman that he had a good experience with a particular bounty hunter, that bondsman may use those services again and again.

    "Every arrest is a sale," said Scott.

    Bounty hunters get a percentage of the bond for their captures. In most cases, the bondsman gives them 10 percent for the safe return of a bail skipper. In cases where they have to travel to a different state to hunt someone down, they usually get 20 percent of the bond.

    The average bond, however, is pretty small. According to the National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents, most outstanding bonds are worth less than $5,000, which works out to $500 for the bounty hunter who finds the violator.

    The good news for anyone wanting to become a bounty hunter is there is plenty of work. There are more than 1.2 million outstanding bench warrants in Los Angeles County alone, according to the NABEA.

    Gotta earn a rep

    Lots of skills go into bounty hunting. One has to know how to locate people who don't want to be found. Much of that work can be done through research on the computer. Like police work, it also involves extensive interviewing, over the phone and in person. Sometimes, bounty hunters set up elaborate lures to get the person they are looking for to come out of hiding.

    The hardest part about getting started in the business is establishing a reputation. Bondsmen want to hire bounty hunters who have a long history of safely delivering felons back to the court.

    Scott MacLean, a bounty hunter in Upper Marlboro, Md., said he earned his stripes by taking on cases that bondsmen had already written off.

    "I went to a bail bondsman and said give me all the cases you can't find," said MacLean. "There was no risk for them in me going after them. We ended up finding them all."

    A lot of people who work in the field are also private investigators or, like Scott, are former law enforcement officials who learned a lot of the tricks of the trade through their prior professions.

    Until recently, experience was just about the only way to learn to become a bounty hunter. Now, at least one college in the United States, Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, has a certification program for bail enforcement. Most of the bail enforcement groups in the nation also conduct seminars and courses at different locations in the country.

    Reward is not always the cash

    Many start in the business as part-timers until they start taking in enough work to make bail enforcement a full-time job. Yet, even someone like Scott, who has a stellar reputation in the state of Nevada and has been in the business since 1992, said the work is sporadic.

    "There are always spikes in cash flow," he said. "There may be a month when I make $20,000, and others I make minimum wage."

    To supplement their business, many bounty hunters also work as private investigators and provide high-level security services. Some even supplement incomes by becoming bail bondsmen and going after their own truant felons.

    In three years, MacLean's complement of bail bonds, bail enforcement and private investigation work has gone from zero to $1.7 million in revenue. Like Scott, MacLean attributes much of his financial success has to do with operating his business with smarts, courage and courtesy.

    He extends that courtesy to the men and women he captures as well as to his 10 employees.

    "In this business you get exactly what you're asking for. If you confront someone, you are going to get a confrontation," he said. "If you treat them with respect you are going to have a lot less confrontations."

    Yet, in the careers of most bounty hunters there are going to be occasions when they face truly violent criminals and, in spite of the premium so many place on treating their captures well, they also have to be willing to stand up and play hardball when the situation demands it.

    Most hope to avoid such situations. But guys like Scott make sure they are prepared. Most of his employees are trained emergency medical technicians just in case someone gets hurt on the job.

    The talk of violence on the job also brings up a sore point with some bounty hunters: Some don't like to be called bounty hunters. Many feel the name has been sullied by popular notions of rogue criminal chasers riding around on motor cycles strapped with double-barreled shotguns.

    Bounty hunters these days, although many still use the term, prefer to be called bail enforcement agents. It hints at a professionalism they aspire to and a level of respect they feel the public owes them.

    "Very few counties have the money to spend to go after open warrants," said MacLean. "We don't do these cowboy antics. We go after people who are supposed to be in court." graphic

      RELATED STORIES

    Getting started: Elvis - Oct. 8, 2001

    Getting Started in the handbag business - Sept. 10, 2001

    Getting started: Brewing - Aug. 27, 2001

      RELATED LINKS

    Chesapeake Group

    Special Agency Services





    graphic graphic

    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.

    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.

    graphic