Bounty Hunters: What are the Laws and Duties?

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Tracking down fugitives on the run.

Bounty Hunters, or Recovery Agents, have a dangerous job.  But, how does what we see on television compare to reality?

They're responsible for finding people who have skipped out on bail and are running from the law.  But while television shows often make it look like it can be a simple task, in reality, it takes quite a lot of time and effort to catch these criminals.

"About 20 percent to 30 percent that bond out of jail will run," said SMOJS CEO and Bounty Hunter Trainer Tim Brenner.

What television doesn't show you, is all the work that goes into tracking criminals down.

"They do glorify it a lot," said Brenner.  "What a bounty hunter or recovery agent normally would expect is a lot of surveillance and homework-- tracking down where the person goes, they leave a lot of that out ."

"It's a lot of t.v. for entertainment compared to real life," said Bounty Hunter Austin Nystrom.  "They make it look easy-- they find the guy the next day they go get him, it's far from that."

"If we had as many runners as the shows do, we'd be out of business," said Bondsman and Bounty Hunter Drew Wheeler.

Wheeler is a supervising agent at A-Advanced Bailbonds.

"We are very selective on who we bond out of jail," he said.  "We aren't all decked out in leather and swat gear-- we knock on doors-- we don't kick doors down."

"There's definitely a lot more to it than what you see on t.v. shows," said Nystrom.  "Finding them is the hardest part."

Nystrom works for Southern Missouri Judicial Services Investigations and Protection.  Tim Brenner is the CEO.

"The biggest obstacle we face is trying to stay up with the criminal," said Brenner.  "A lot of times they don't have good working phones-- they have throw away phones.  And, also, trying to find the people strung out on drugs that aren't keeping a normal residence."


Brenner has trained Bounty Hunters for several years.

"The training is a 48 hour process," said Brenner.  "So basically 24 hours is basic training and a background check and schedule testing."

"The bail bonding license is a dual license," said Wheeler.  "It's to bond and also for bail enforcement."

Once licensed, there are several laws bounty hunters must follow.

"One is to check with local law enforcement agencies," said Brenner.  "What is better for recovery agents is they can cross state lines while hunting the fugitive.  We don't allow other agents to come in our state-- you have to be licensed in Missouri to come in the state-- otherwise, you're committing a misdemeanor or felony."

Laws vary from state to state.

"If I go to another state and transfer someone back-- it has to be quick, within 72 hours," said Wheeler.  "I can't take my time."


Finding fugitives can take several weeks.

"Some of these guys stay at a different house each night," said Nystrom.

"A lot of skip tracing, a lot of phone calls before they go start hunting down the person," said Brenner.  "Normally they don't put up a fight, but there have been some that have."

Which makes for a pretty dangerous job.

"I don't think most people realize the dangers involved," said Brenner.  "And it's important they get the proper training to do that job."

"We have some of the authority of the shield like police officers," Wheeler said.  "With none of the protection."

"People on more severe charges are more likely to avoid going to court and being captured," added Brenner. "So they're the ones that run."


And where they run to can sometimes be the most dangerous part.   

"A lot of it's the places you may go," Brenner said.  "In a meth lab, where you have an active meth cook, a drug house.  There could be dangerous animals."

"Some of the places people hide-- they'll jump in the attic, try to hide in insulation boxes, I found someone in a dryer one time," said Nystrom.  "They get unique."

"They get pretty creative with their hiding spots," said Brenner.

By law, Bounty Hunters have 180 days to get fugitives back in court before they have to forfeit the bond and pay it themselves.

If the bond is $100,000, the bondsmen will owe all that money plus expenses if the bounty hunter doesn't find the fugitive.


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