You just might need to have a split personality to become a bail bonds agent. In most states, an agent can, and often does, act as a bounty hunter as well. One minute, you're a mild mannered business person dressed suitably for court appearances. Put on you bounty hunter's hat and you enter a world of danger and intrigue. We recently interviewed Baltimore-based bail bonds agent and bounty hunter Dennis Sew about how someone would enter the field.
eHow: What does a bail bonds agent do?
Sew: The bond is meant to guarantee your client's appearance in court. The agent collects a fee -- 10 percent in most states -- for indemnifying the client. The fee must be paid however the case ends. If the client absconds, the agent must pay the bond to the court and -- with or without the help of law enforcement -- attempt to return the bail jumper to the court. In most states, the agent may personally perform collection activities, or else turn the job over to a bounty hunter.
eHow: How do state requirements differ?
Sew: Several states, including Illinois and Kentucky, don't permit bail bonds agents. In the other states, the agent must take insurance courses prior to getting a state license. The agent then negotiates a contract with an insurance carrier that allows the agent to write bail bonds on behalf of the carrier. The agent must deposit money, usually at least $5,000, in a reserve account maintained by the insurance carrier. This helps the carrier cover any outstanding bail bonds should something happen to the agent. In some states, such as Florida, once you finish your coursework, you have to apprentice for a year before you can start writing your own bonds. You need separate training and licensing to become a bounty hunter. Some states, like Texas, don't allow bail bonds agents to act as bounty hunters. This means that, in Texas, you can't apprehend an absconding client even if he's standing right next to you -- that's the bounty hunter's job. Many states require a bounty hunter to register with the local sheriff or some other law enforcement agency.
eHow: What do you do once you get your license?
Sew: When you become a licensed bail bonds agent, you have to decide whether to work for an agency or start your own office. As an employee, you may be paid a salary or work on commission. At least 70 percent of agents who work as employees work on commission, which means they don't get paid unless they write bonds. An owner simply collects the 10 percent fee as compensation. You have more leeway as an owner to offer competitive financing terms. For example, you might require 1 percent down from your client and the other 9 percent before the case ends. Sometimes the clients are hesitant to pay the balance if the courts dismiss their cases. Sometimes the clients run away and stick you with paying the bond. Heh heh. In either case, I and/or my bounty hunter try to apprehend the client and collect the money due me.
eHow: What's the relationship between bail bonds agents and bounty hunters?
Sew: An agent needs to decide whether to also become a bounty hunter. Many bail bond agents act as their own bounty hunters. My feeling is, why pay someone else for something you can do yourself? Of course, it took me a long time to learn the streets of Baltimore, which are very dangerous. We average one murder per day here. I'm gracious and professional in the office, but when I act as a bounty hunter, I put on a bulletproof vest and carry a licensed 9 mm gun. It's risky. A successful agent must be a good judge of character. If you have common sense and learn your trade, you should be fine.
eHow: You mentioned risk -- have you encountered any risky situations?
Sew: Thirty years -- yeah, I got stories for you. Here's my favorite. My client skipped out on $500 bail. He lived in blue-collar part of town, in project-type housing. The apartment was on second floor, and me and my partner go in. My client's girlfriend was there. She was very nervous and suspicious, said she didn't know where her boyfriend was, asked to see our paperwork. We begin looking around, open a closet door and suddenly, he comes at us like a madman. He starts fighting us, out of his mind on drugs. We broke a living room coffee table during the struggle.
Now, we were expecting to deal with a minor absconder -- it was only a $500 bond. We tried to cuff him but he fought us off for 10 or 15 minutes. One of us called 911. During the struggle, my partner's weapon comes flying out its holster and lands underneath the couch. Finally, we get him down and cuff him. Five policemen show up and tell us that our client is a known police fighter and, oh yeah, was wanted for attempted murder from three nights before.
Here's the funny part: During the fight, a caged myna bird gets loose and somebody yells, "Look out for the bird!" We all freeze for two seconds, staring at the bird, before we start fighting again. I never forgot that.
eHow: What wisdom did you draw from this experience?
Sew: People jump bail every day, but you never know what they did the night before.
About Dennis Sew
Dennis Sew is a licensed bail bonds agent and bounty hunter in Baltimore, Maryland. He began his career in 1984 and has continued uninterrupted since. Sew received a business degree from Towson University in Baltimore.