Bounty hunting was never an easy job, and that wasn’t why you got into it anyway. But, like just about every other profession, COVID-19 has turned the profession on its head.
And that’s if you even still have any work at all. There are some 14,000 bail agents in the United States, but with hardly any bonds being posted, a lot of us are just sitting around twiddling our thumbs. There’s even speculation in major news media like CNBC that the entire industry is likely to take a permanent dive.
But bad guys keep doing bad things, and bounty hunters are by definition some tough hombres… you have to adjust to what is happening on the streets, and you have to have faith that your phone is going to start ringing again as society comes to grips with the pandemic and realizes that some people still need to go to jail. When that happens, there are at least six big changes you are going to have to come to grips with as you hit the streets.
1. Contact Tracing is Basically Skip Tracing Without the Handcuffs
There is some good news that comes from the pandemic, though. Turns out your particular set of skills are suddenly in hot demand in an entirely new kind of public safety work: contact tracing.
Although many states and municipalities are still struggling to get their contact tracing programs off the ground, most of the eggheads seem to think this is going to be one of the big keys to getting the coronavirus under control. Just like crime, COVID-19 needs to be controlled by isolating the bad actors (the virus, in this case) from the general public.
To do that, contact tracers start with one person known to be infected, and work backward and forward to identify who they might have caught it from, and who else they might have infected… so those people can be isolated to keep the disease from spreading further. Is that not a job description tailor-made for a bounty hunter? And probably no one will want to shoot at you, either.
2. Bureaucratic Business Managed to Get Even Slower With COVID-19 Procedures
Paperwork is often the bane of the bounty hunter… bond applications, bail pieces, license applications, arrest warrants, business and tax filings.
But that was all pre-COVID. At least you could generally get in and harangue some poor clerk into helping you get a copy of the arrest warrant.
Now, many government offices of all sorts are subject to in-person visit restrictions, with many interactions moved online.
Even something as simple as renewing your license can become a bureaucratic nightmare… while filing applications online is no big deal, good luck getting fingerprinted or getting things notarized in this environment—both of them common requirements in bail enforcement licensure.
The longer things drag on, though, the more agencies are carving out waivers or otherwise figuring out how to get things done without exposing anyone to the bug.
3. Jails Are Letting Cons Out Without Bonds
COVID-19 spreads like wildfire through confined populations like, say, the county jail. So a lot of jurisdictions haven’t been slow to reduce their population of confinees.
The problem that presents for the dedicated bail bondsman is that a lot of folks who would otherwise be bonding out and, inevitably, skipping and requiring retrieval, are just being allowed to walk sans bond. Which means, when they don’t show up, you have no basis to pursue them. And judges have been setting extremely low bail amounts for prisoners these days anyway, hoping to make it easier for them to bond out without turning to an agency for bail.
Although that may not be a dent in your pocketbook right now, down the line it could mean real reductions in the amount of business the entire industry sees, at least until COVID-19 finally gets put to rest.
4. Criminals Wear Masks… But Now So Does Everyone Else
Some solid detective work is what gets you into spitting distance of your bounty, but that last little bit of identification almost always comes from one thing: facial recognition. Your eyeballs, their face.
But now, mask mandates and the fact that everyone with a lick of sense is strapping on some kind of face covering has made spotting your target by recognizing facial features all but impossible. Although height, weight, hair, and other features are among the basics in any description, there aren’t many people who can fill in the blanks without positively ID-ing a face… in the end, you count on matching a mug to a mug shot.
Creativity won’t let you down here, however; as more people are personalizing their look, you might find that face mask styles actually start to be another identifying feature you can use when you are on the hunt. If your man posted a mean-mug with their new skull-print mask on Facebook, that might be all you need.
5. Parolees Can Also Be Infectees
If you try to tell us you’ve never been worried about the various sorts of parasites and diseases some junkie you’re taking into custody might be carrying around courtesy of their lifestyle, you’d be lying. But coronavirus is a different sort of bad news—aerosol spread means you’re at risk just being in the same space, and you can bet that your skip isn’t going to be excited about putting on a mask to protect you as you escort them back to jail. And according to Stat, more than 160,000 inmates were infected as of mid-August… and undercounts are likely.
So the gloves and bulletproof vest now have to be joined by a close-fitting N-95 grade mask or respirator, along with eye protection of some sort. And, as much as you can never plan the exact place and circumstances for an apprehension, you’re better off taking down the target out in open spaces versus tussling with them in an indoor setting.
6. State-Mandated Lockdown Orders Can Limit the Scope of Your Search
Stay-at-home orders don’t usually make an exception for bail bondsmen. That means, technically, a lot of your searches are non-essential services and you aren’t supposed to be out cruising around.
And those skips may not be in the places you might usually find them, either. The jumper who always hangs out at his favorite corner bar, warrants or not, isn’t going to be there if the place is closed down. Stakeouts are more boring than ever in an era where no one goes anywhere.
On the plus side, if you’re lucky enough to get a good home address, you’re probably much more likely to find who you are looking for hanging out on the couch these days. And those pesky international flight cases? With borders closed all over, those are a lot less likely.