Alex Haynes: Legally, the State of Georgia refers to us as Bail Recovery Agents, so I always introduce myself that way while working. That said, I’m also a licensed private investigator, and, at my core, I consider myself to be an investigator. “Bounty hunting” is usually reserved for situations where people don’t know what bail recovery agent means. Those conversations inevitably go in the direction of “Oh! You’re like Dog the Bounty Hunter!”
AH: I become a professional photographer right out of high school, and I owned a commercial photography business for years. Sometime around 2012, I started thinking back to how badly I wanted to be a detective as a kid. (I grew up obsessed with detective and spy stories!) I decided to look into my options for an investigations career of some sort.
Bail recovery came into my life in the form of my partner, Jon. We trained together in a Krav Maga class, and when he started doing bail recovery, he reached out to me for help on the investigative side. We realized that we had complimentary skillsets and started our business together. After that, I became a private investigator as well.
AH: That’s a great question. The dynamic of the big tough guy and the smart, nerdy partner is kind of a stereotype in movies, books, etc. (Everyone is probably thinking of Q and James Bond right now.) It’s an overstatement to say that I’m the brains and Jon is the brawn, but it’s not too far off!
To address the obvious: I’m 5’4” and 110 pounds. I don’t care how many action movies show petite women beating the shit out of five grown men at once, that doesn’t happen in the real world. Jon has the physical size and presence that is necessary to make people think twice about throwing hands. I don’t pretend that I could do the physical side of this job on my own. It would be remarkably dumb. Jon also has strong de-escalation and conflict resolution skills, due to his background as a caseworker in the mental health field.
That said, skip tracing and investigations come intuitively for me. I’m good at connecting pieces of data from various sources, and I’m naturally inquisitive. The physical disadvantage of being small and female becomes an advantage in undercover work. No one suspects me when I’m in plain clothes. I can walk into a business, and I can catfish people. We always say that catching people is easy, finding people is hard. My investigative abilities are a necessary part of this job.
Last thing: It’s a common misconception that I’m behind a computer while Jon is out kicking doors. I work in the field every single day he does. If he’s at a front door, I’m at the back door with a shotgun.
AH: We’ve worked a huge range of cases over the years! We’re actually looking for an alleged murderer right now, but that’s uncommon. Our cases usually involve small-time, revolving-door criminals. We work a lot in the mountains of North Georgia, and we do have problems with meth and opioids here, so there is a lot of drug-related crime — local drug dealers, theft charges. Family violence charges are common as well.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t actually apprehending people for the crimes they were charged with. We arrest people for one thing only: failure to appear in court. The charges that they failed to appear on are only alleged crimes when we are looking for them. They haven’t been convicted yet.
AH: My girl Domino! The Keira Knightley movie may have been my first exposure to bail recovery. I probably owe at least part of my career to her. My favorite cover is a that of a photographer. The best lies always have an element of truth to them, so I can take on that role very naturally (and I still have my cameras for props). It has worked nearly every time. I caught a pretty major identity thief in New York City with a photography sting.
AH: The industry standard is 10 percent of the original bond amount in state, 20 percent out of state (plus all travel expenses), with a $300-400 minimum on bonds under a certain amount. Our pay is entirely commission based, so if we don’t catch people, we don’t get paid.
AH: The easy answer is there is no nationwide license, and the licensing process varies state to state (sometimes drastically). And the reality is that even if the licensing process in a state is easy, this doesn’t mean getting work will be easy. There’s a lot of liability involved, and it’s hard for a new agent to gain a bondsman’s trust.
AH: Oh, wow … in four years, I’d say we’ve worked over 500 cases. That includes physical apprehensions and administrative closures.
I have worked a number of unforgettable cases, but the first one to come to mind is actually the photography sting in New York City that I mentioned earlier. The woman we were after was a more experienced criminal than most of our skips. She was using credit card fraud to steal luxury cars and other high-end items. I was impressed, because at first, she did a good job of laying low and staying off of social media. Eventually, her son became a child actor and she made an Instagram account to promote his work. I was able to set up a convincing photoshoot sting with her in Madison Square Park. We didn’t know if she was going to show because traffic made her late. That was about the longest half hour of my life, but she showed, and we caught her! It was a cool experience because it was my first time in New York City, and catching her earned us a lot of credibility in the industry.
AH: I appreciate you asking this question, and the answer is yes. I’ve had bondsmen refer to me as “that little girl” and comment that I’d never make it in the industry. I’ve worked hard to gain their respect over the years, closing hard cases and finding skips that other recovery agents couldn’t.
Also, because Jon and I both have a social-media presence on Instagram, I get a lot of “mansplaining” comments and criticisms that Jon doesn’t have to deal with. I’m not going to lie — it can still be frustrating. I just try my best to stay above it all. I’m also fortunate to have a partner who views and treats me like an equal. Jon has always had my back on these issues.
AH: Anyone who loves tactical gear knows that your kit is always evolving.
Right now, my carry gun is a Glock 19. It’s nearly stock, with just Trijicon HD night sights and a Lone Wolf barrel. I run a T.Rex Arms Ragnarok holster in a mid-drop setup, but I just tested a Safariland ALS, and I’m switching to that because it has retention.
My plate carrier is an LBX Tactical Small Modular. I love it because it holds 8 x 10 plates (for fun-sized people like me!), but it still has a cummerbund (instead of clips on the side). It is the only 8 x 10 carrier I’ve found with that feature. It’s a great carrier. I highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with gear due to being small.
On my vest, I run a GoPro HERO Session as a bodycam, a small radio, DPS Pepper Spray, a Ledlenser MT10 flashlight and Vertx gloves. I try to keep my gear simple and lightweight, since I need to be able to stay mobile (sometimes we have to chase people). I run 8 x 10 poly plates, and the whole vest weighs around seven pounds.
AH: As you might guess in 2018, it plays a vital role in catching people. Ninety percent of the time when I open new files, one of the first things I do is run their names on Facebook and Instagram. That said, rarely do I find an immediate exact location. Most of the time the posts on their social media are just another piece of the investigative puzzle. Social media does figure into the vast majority of my cases, though.
AH: With very few exceptions, we’ve had great support from law enforcement in whatever jurisdiction we’re working in. I believe it starts with us, though. Any time we’re working in an area, in or out of state, we call dispatch and give them our location and description. It keeps them from being surprised if a local citizen calls in concerned about our presence. Oftentimes, our defendants are known to local police, so they have intel that we may not have. And many times, if our defendant has a warrant in their county or a national warrant, they’ll come out and assist us in the capture.
AH: The answer to this question always surprises people. A bail bond is essentially a short-term loan, and the skip can choose to settle that debt (which means paying the full amount of the bond plus recovery fees). However, that doesn’t mean their warrants will be withdrawn.
Settling their debts with the bonding companies doesn’t settle their failures to appear with the courts. On our end, it’s at the discretion of the bonding company owner, so if we get someone in custody and they offer to pay, we have to call and let the owner decide if they want to accept. Most of them will.
AH: Fantastic questions. It’s important to remember that we are private citizens who are only given the authority to arrest people who are on bond with our employers. We have no other powers of arrest. As far as witnessing a crime, we’re no different than any other citizen. Obviously, if we feel someone is in danger, we will absolutely report it. We’ve also had to call animal control and child protective services in the past due to situations we’ve encountered.
AH: Make damn sure you know the person well and trust them to handle their business. If your co-worker calls you and asks you to co-sign for his cousin you’ve never met, don’t do it. That may seem obvious, but I’ve seen it happen (and end poorly).
AH: We just started a podcast — conveniently on the Skillset Network! We’re very excited about it. We’re going to talk about our lives as bounty hunters, share some of our favorite cases and stories from our weird world, probably talk a little bit about tacos and, hopefully, mix in some interviews with cool people! If you want to learn more about this crazy job, check it out!
Want to learn to be a bounty hunter? Check out our episode of Skillset Live where we interview the owner of Bounty Hunter Bootcamp! You can also get in on the conversation on our social media pages or pick up a back issue of Skillset at OutdoorGroupStore.com!