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Take-Down Any Which Way I Can

I wonder whether this is the best time to admit this, but shy is not my style, so here goes: I’m proud to call myself a bounty hunter.

No, I’m not talking about the kind of bounty hunter who’s been getting so much ink lately - the ones who kick down doors at the wrong houses or shoot first and ask questions later.

I’m talking about the professionals who have captured dangerous fugitives after everyone else has given up, who take the time and trouble to make sure they have the right suspect, who treat bounty hunting as a job that needs to be done well.

Like any profession, the field of bounty hunting draws its share of bad actors. I have seen bounty hunters slap people around for no reason other than satisfying their own sadistic impulses. That’s why I have no trouble with those who argue that we need more regulation, perhaps a licensing system and formal training courses. As far as I’m concerned, that can only make the good bounty hunters better and get rid of the bad ones.

Bounty hunting is an accepted part of the criminal justice system.

My company, Mack’s Bail Bonds, is regulated under California’s bail bondsman laws and guarantees bail for hundreds of defendants a year. If they don’t show up for a court date, that means I’m on the hook for the entire amount. Let’s say a defendant out on $100,000 bail skips town (and becomes a “skip,” in bail-bond parlance). If I can’t track him down and bring him to court, my company owes $100,000 to the court. Because the skip (or the skip’s family) puts up no more than 10 percent of the bond, we have a powerful incentive for tracking down anyone who doesn’t show up for trial.

Technically, when I’m pursuing my own skips, I’m not a bounty hunter because no one is paying me a bounty to make the arrest. But I also take referrals from other bondsmen. If I track down their skips, they pay me a percentage of the money I saved them.

I came up the old-fashioned way. I learned on the job. It was 1985 and I was selling real estate in California. I was no wallflower, though: I was just finishing a 17-year stint with the Flying Tigers, a military airlift outfit that ferried passengers and cargo in and out of some of the world’s most dangerous places. I thought I knew how to handle myself. So, when a local bail bondsman asked me if I wanted to make a little money tracing a bail jumper, I decided to give it a try. I developed two common sense rules:

Don’t be a hero. Given my height (5 feet), I wasn’t going to overpower anyone.

Don’t go on an arrest alone. I take a partner and alert the local police of my plans. If I can flush out the skip, I’ll let the police do the rest.

Courts depend on us. Without bounty hunters, most bail jumpers would probably never come to trial. The police just wouldn’t have the time, or the resources, to catch them all. And we can do things the police can’t - something I learned early in my career.

Take the case of Ricki and Dee, two women in their twenties awaiting trial on drug charges. I had traced them to a house in the nearby town of Paso Robles. I planned to arrest them, but first, I told my pals in the Paso Robles Police Department. Some of them were standing on the front lawn when I knocked on the door.

A woman talked to me through the screen door but wouldn’t open it or let me in. I sensed from her nervous behavior that one or both women were hiding inside. I went around to the side of the house, where I spotted an open window. In a flash, I leaped over the sill and landed in the kitchen. There was Ricki. I led her out the front door to the waiting cops. I went back into the house to do a more thorough search and found Dee hiding in a bathroom.

My leap through the window caused quite a stir. I heard a deputy sheriff say, “Gee, I wish I could do that.” He wasn’t talking about my leaping ability. He was talking about entering the house without a search warrant.

So why can I enter a house if the cops can’t? Because the courts long ago decided that a defendant, in accepting a bond, is agreeing to allow the bondsman to come after him if he fails to come to court.

Sound too harsh? Remember, we are dealing with accused and convicted criminals whose friends and families have put up the money for their bonds. If they don’t show up for trial, their loved ones get hurt. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them.

That’s also why I don’t apologize for some of my tactics. When I’m trying to trace a skip, I will do anything to get information, including telling outright lies. I will even pretend I’m a friend or a relative. My thinking is: They lied to me when they said they would show up for court, so I see nothing wrong with lying to bring them back.


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