The Troubling Business of Bounty Hunting
July 14, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

You may not realize it, but bounty hunting is still alive and well in America in 2019. It's fueled by old laws, loose guidelines, and not-great money. In order to get a closer look inside the world of "bail enforcement agents," writer Jeff Winkler got licensed and spent months working as a BEA. What he found was a mess for pretty much everyone caught up in a broken system. A long read from GQ. "No other job is more American," writes the author.

Our fugitive had no legs. He had a patchy beard, a decent scowl, and a court-issued FTA (“Failure to Appear”) arrest warrant stemming from a previous felony charge of “Assault and Battery [of a] Firefighter.” But no legs. There was nary a mention of this in the bondsman’s slim manila folder—just the original bond agreement with none of the fugitive’s details filled out, the arrest warrant, and a mugshot. Instead, this vital piece of intel about Joe Jr. was volunteered by a neighbor of his.

Me and Dodson had been on the case all day. Whenever one of these skips fails to show up in court, the bail bondsman calls us to find them. Or, more likely, calls one of our better-qualified competitors. We’d only been certified bounty hunters for all of three weeks.

The late-summer heat of Virginia’s Tidewater region soaked through our body armor as we went door-to-door in Joe Jr.’s neighborhood, like a pair of tactical salesmen. We carried with us an assortment of pepper sprays, handcuffs, and one projectile taser. Around my neck, I wore a shiny metal badge engraved with the words Bail Enforcement Agent. Joe Jr.’s neighbor took one look at us and assumed we were something legit. She pointed to Joe Jr.'s house, told us about his lack of legs, and added: “He likes to drink.”
posted by Bella Donna (13 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
CW: Stupid ablest joke early on that I missed. Apologies.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:51 AM on July 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is something that Mexico got right - private "law enforcement" officers are bad, and the only answer is to not allow them in the first place. It's always entertaining to read stories of overly ambitious bounty hunters chasing someone to Mexico, only to find out that on the other side of the border, they're the one breaking the law.

And yes, I get the argument that without bounty hunters, the bail industry would collapse. But given that the bail industry is a predatory industry preying on the poor and enabled by the government, and the concept of bail should be abolished in the first place - it's not an actual argument for keeping them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:40 AM on July 14, 2019 [25 favorites]


Every time I ever saw any sort of tv documentary or whatever about bounty hunting, I always came away with the impression that the bounty hunters would have been the hunted had they not landed the job of hunter first.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2019 [11 favorites]


From the link: “Whiskey, Tango, uh …,” I pressed the binoculars deeper into my eye sockets, “... Xylophone?”

“X-ray,” Que corrected on speakerphone.


That's some competence, there.

End cash bail, give these guys UBI to sit in air conditioning and play a Call of Duty.
posted by bagel at 10:03 AM on July 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


The GQ article makes the job sound a lot like being a repo man. It would be a good sideline for a repo man.

One of my favorite 'drive in' movies is about bounty hunters (well, it turns into a heist movie): Domino.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2019


The GQ article makes the job sound a lot like being a repo man

Indeed, but treating people like property.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


Indeed, but treating people like property.

That's what sin is, according to Granny Weatherwax.
"There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
"It's a lot more complicated than that--"
"No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."
"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes--"
"But they starts with thinking about people as things."
posted by fings at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2019 [19 favorites]


Granny Weatherwax

send Kant the check
posted by thelonius at 12:39 PM on July 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


How about the people who are sure they are still people but are sure they are *evil* people? Worse than just treating people as property. At least a lot of the time.
posted by aleph at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


So honest question, I know there was a national effort to get oral histories of people who had been enslaved. Was there any similar effort to get oral histories from the Slave Patrol?

I feel like those oral histories would be pretty Illuminating, but really only to the people that need Illuminating the most.
posted by eustatic at 4:42 PM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Me and Dodson had been on the case all day.

Me and my grade school English teacher cringe.
posted by ctmf at 6:39 PM on July 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


Cringe away. But if you and your grade school English teacher read the entire article, y’all might understand that “me and Dodson” is part of the author’s voice.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:16 AM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


This is something that Mexico got right - private "law enforcement" officers are bad, and the only answer is to not allow them in the first place. It's always entertaining to read stories of overly ambitious bounty hunters chasing someone to Mexico, only to find out that on the other side of the border, they're the one breaking the law.

That's not really Mexico specific. I don't know that there is bounty hunting anywhere outside the US (and the Philippines according to Wikipedia). Most places don't have a cash bail system so the whole ecosystem doesn't exist.
posted by atrazine at 2:32 AM on July 15, 2019


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