There are reality TV shows that showcase the lives and work of bail agents, usually in typical glamorous Hollywood fashion. But what you see on TV is drastically different than what you'd expect from a typical bail agent. These agents work alongside bondsmen to track down and apprehend those who skip out on bail. The following takes a close look at how bail agents really operate and what to expect if you're ever in need of a bail bond service.
How Bail Agents Work
Most reality TV dramas show the part where the bail agent apprehends their quarry, but they often skip the tedious process that enables them to locate defendants in the first place:
- First, the bail agent receives information from the bondsman that could potentially help the agent track down the defendant, along with the application for the bond and a copy of the bond itself. In some cases, this information may be enough to help track the defendant's whereabouts.
- The bail agent will also question the cosigner, if one was used to secure the bail bond, about the defendant's whereabouts.
- If there isn't enough information on hand to help locate the defendant, the bail agent gets to work on skip tracing, a process that involves uncovering a broad range of information that could hold clues as to the defendant's current whereabouts. This information often includes old and current phone numbers, prior arrest reports, motor vehicle records and previous addresses.
- The bail agent may also follow up on leads by staking out residences, places of employment or other venues where the defendant is known to frequent. It can be a tedious and sometimes dangerous task, as the defendant could spot the bail agent or someone else could tip the person off.
What Bail Agents Can and Can't Do
Eventually, the bail agent arranges to have the defendant apprehended. This can happen in a wide variety of forms – bail agents can use subterfuge to lure fugitives into a controlled arrest, apprehend the fugitive on the street or even enter dwellings to capture their quarry. For example, a bail agent can enter the defendant's property without a warrant to execute an arrest. However, they're prohibited from entering someone else's property without a warrant unless given permission by the property owner.
When it comes to apprehending fugitives, bail agents typically have more leeway than most sworn law enforcement officers. Most bail agents aren't affiliated with law enforcement – despite being licensed by the state and authorized to recover fugitives, they're not acting on behalf of any state or federal agency. There's no federal oversight when it comes to bail agents and many states have few, if any regulations concerning bail agents.
However, some states place restrictions on bail agent activity. Connecticut, for example, has several restrictions on bail agent activity, along with a detailed licensing process. Kentucky, Illinois, Oregon and Wisconsin prohibit bail agents from apprehending fugitives, as these states have completely abolished commercial bail bonds. All arrests must be made by a sworn peace officer. Texas requires its bail agents to be peace officers, armed security officers or private investigators.
Although most bail agents are trained to use only enough force to affect an arrest of their subjects, some resort to excessive means in order to apprehend their targets. It's not out of the ordinary for a bail agent to engage in a reckless pursuit or use enough force to cause injury. Fortunately, those cases are highly uncommon.
How Bail Agents Are Compensated
Most bail agents charge up to 10 percent of the total bail amount as a fee for their services. Like bondsmen, bail agents do have a vested interest in bringing back anyone who decides to skip bail – if the defendant hasn't been returned to custody, the bail agent isn't paid for their services. Meanwhile, the bondsman has to pay the full amount of the bond.
For more information, contact a professional bail bond service, such as All Star Bail Bonds, and inquire about the type of work they've seen with bail agents they've worked with in the past.