Bail Associations

The end of commercial bail in Florida?

Our demise will never be about the actual work that we do. Florida bail agents invariably produce our defendants in court or we pay a substantial penalty. We play a crucial role in the criminal justice system. Our profession serves the best interests of the citizens

Florida Bail Agents Association

and the courts of Florida. Our end will never be about our actual merits. We do our job well and always have.

Instead, it will be about our apathy, oversized egos, and purposeful ignorance.  We’ve been told time and time again to get political or get out of bail. We are not listening.

Many good men and woman who were recently employed in bail in New Jersey are unemployed today. The citizens of New Jersey are worse for it. California bail agents are on the brink of likewise being eliminated by lawmakers. Our profession is being threatened in jurisdictions across the country. It is monumentally naïve to assume that Florida is exempt.

There exists among far too many of us a profound misunderstanding about the nature of our national and state associations. The Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS) and the Florida Bail Agents Association (FBAA) are not “them.” They are “us.”  They will not rescue us. Only we will rescue us.

Sadly, most of us in this profession are not paid members of the PBUS or FBAA. We do not donate our time, experience, money and resources in order to protect and preserve our very own livelihood. Yet we are quick to criticize “them” for not acting or for taking the wrong action. There is no “them,” only us.

Professional Bail Agents of the United States

The current presidents of the PBUS and the FBAA are first and foremost bail agents. They are “us.” They have each spent a tremendous amount of their own time, money and effort to protect private, secured bail. They are serving “us”. What are we doing to serve ourselves?

The surety companies will not save us. “They” will not save us. The only one who can save us is us.

We can continue with our public squabbling, oversized egos, divisiveness and willful ignorance while we wait for the end. Or, working together we can accomplish great things.

I hope to see you next week in Orlando at the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World. The PBUS summer conference is July 16-19th. The FBAA summer Town Hall meeting is on the afternoon of Monday, July 17th. You can register on site for PBUS. Florida bail agents can attend the FBAA town hall meeting at no cost.  The PBUS is also offering one-day passes for Monday and Tuesday.

We’ll be sharing good news about recently passed legislation in Florida and the continuing failures of New Jersey’s disastrous bail reform. We have classes on new and improved tazers, a new bounty hunting certification program, updates on national developments and much, much more.

Join us. Participate in saving us. We’re worth it.

A tale of two conferences: Publicly funded pretrial release advocates are very good at spending someone else’s money to attack those of us who have to earn our own way.

Representatives of approximately 200 federal, state, and local agencies are meeting in Washington DC this week to attend the so-called “Worldwide Pretrial Innovators Convention.”

This gathering is hosted by the folks at the Pretrial Justice Institute, headed by their CEO, Cherise Fanno Burdeen. Ms Burdeen delivered the keynote address to her convention of government employees. The audio in the clip below is horrible but in just over a minute, Ms. Burdeen disparages the legal giant Paul Clement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “and my favorite, the reality stars Dog the Bounty Hunter and Beth Chapman who have traveled to Georgia, Connecticut, Harris County and other places and appealed to their Twitter followers whenever the threat of reform arises.”

Each of the attendees at this conference has two things in common. The first is that they would like to eliminate what they refer to as “money bail.” (This is what judges and bail agents refer to as secured, accountable bail.) The second thing the attendees have in common is that none of them use their own hard-earned money to pay for the considerable costs of attending the convention.

The folks attending this lavish affair which is taking place at a $250+ per night Washington DC hotel are employed by government agencies or in some cases via grants or other pseudo public funding. They don’t have to spend any of their own money to live it up on someone else’s dime. That someone else, of course, is invariably us taxpayers. They use our taxes to host a party convention during which they strategize how best to eliminate our profession.

Incredibly, the folks at PJI actually provide pretrial release government employees with a helpful template for them to use in obtaining the thousands of dollars needed to fund the costs of attending the convention:

<Date>

 Dear <Decision-maker>,

I would like to request funding to attend the Worldwide Pretrial Innovators Convention (Pi-Con) in Washington, DC, March 8-9th, 2017. This convention, the first of its kind, will be hosted by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI). The event offers a unique experience to convene both policy leaders and practitioners to explore the possibilities of innovation within pretrial justice. It will be a gathering of some of the boldest leaders in pretrial policy and practice in the country and is designed to offer exceptional educational and networking opportunities to increase the effectiveness of pretrial policies and practices.

It is anticipated that 250 federal, state and local organizations and agencies will be represented. This diverse attendee base will maximize my opportunities for sharing ideas and solutions to bring home and implement in <Your city name here>. The event is for and with the unstoppable, mindful, creative and fun people who see pretrial injustice every day and are compelled to fix it—intellectually, operationally and emotionally.

The conference will include sessions and learning opportunities where I can gather tangible takeaways to bring back home on a variety of topics important to our community, such as simulation exercises of various pretrial issues, discussions with impacted community members, workshops on turning pretrial data into effective policies, the media’s role in pretrial reform and more. Specific workshop titles include <Add specific conference workshops and session titles from the conference website to customize for your city’s/town’s needs and interests>. Given that the conference is designed to be experiential, I am confident that these workshops will not only be advantageous to my work, but also beneficial to our local jurisdiction as well.

Outside of the sessions, there will be countless opportunities for me to meet and build relationships with policy and practice leaders and experts from all over the country who may serve as key contacts for both present and future initiatives in <Your city name here>. The opportunity to make valuable connections at this convention will be priceless.

Part of what makes Pi-Con a “must attend” event is the exclusivity of having a safe place to create new ideas, focus on innovation and being able to network with leaders in the field. PJI is the hub of this growing pretrial community, and this convention celebrates those who advance pretrial justice at all levels within government, the community, and stakeholder groups. This convention is on the brink of what will be the future of the pretrial justice world, it is an opportunity that I feel compelled to take.

<The numbers in brackets below will need to be adjusted to reflect the current pricing. The travel costs vary as well and should be changed to reflect your costs.>

<You will need to insert your travel cost numbers here>

Here is the breakdown of conference costs:

Roundtrip Airfare: <$xxxx

Transportation: <$xxxx>

Hotel: $247 plus tax per night

Meals & Incidentals: Govt. per diem, Washington, DC $69 per day (through Sept. 2017)

Conference Fee: $600 through February 25th, 2017

The total costs associated with attending this conference are: <$xxxx>.

With such a great offering of educational content and relationship-building opportunities in one place, having representatives from <Your city name here> at the conference will afford our team of leader’s access to top strategies and best practices that will help create lasting change in the pretrial world. Attached is the full agenda.

Sincerely,  <Your Name Here>

In contrast, the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS) holds two conferences each year to network and provide information, education and representation for the 15,000 bail agents nationwide. Each of the PBUS attendees has to actually earn the funds needed for them to travel to, register and participate in the conference. Private bail agents have to leave their businesses and pay from their own pocket all of the costs associated with participating in the conference. At the most recent PBUS conference the hotel rates were $49 per night if booked in advance. (Astoundingly, one of the topics at the PJI convention in their $250+ per night hotel will be the absurd claim that private bail agents transfer wealth from the poor communities. Seriously. After this, they will share expensive drinks at the bar while they discuss making un-convicted defendants pay for check-ins, urine tests, GPS bracelets and anger management counseling.)

Thankfully, many bail agents from across the United States see the wisdom in supporting our national association and are willing to make the financial sacrifice required in order to support both the PBUS and their own livelihoods.

The pendulum is finally starting to swing the other way. Policy makers and politicians are beginning to learn what experienced criminal court judges already know: that private, secured bail serves to assure the appearance of the accused. These “no money bail” charlatans and swindlers are being exposed for what they are: proponents of still more failed and expensive government programs with no accountability for public safety. They won the battle in New Jersey (temporarily) but are clearly losing the war — in the courts, in the street and even in the press. The so-called “bail reform” that has been enacted in New Jersey is proving to be a dangerous, expensive and unmitigated disaster.

The sham artists at PJI like to point out that in Washington DC (the location of their lavish convention) no one is required to put up “money bail” to secure their appearance in court. They stand silent on the outgoing police chief’s assertion that the criminal justice system in that city is “beyond broken.” None of the break-out sessions at their convention will address the hundreds of thousands of felony fugitives who fail to appear in court.

The next PBUS conference will be held from July 16-19, 2017 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. Room rates are $149. Unfortunately, the PBUS does not supply bail agents with a helpful template to scam taxpayer dollars to cover your costs. In spite of this, bail agents will find the conference worthwhile. I encourage all bail agents to attend and participate. And if you do go, take a minute to thank Beth Chapman for the work she’s doing for us. Judging by the video clip above it’s clear that she’s caught the attention of the folks who want us out-of-business.

Our own money makes us accountable. Taxpayer dollars and government employees? Not so much.

Florida bail agents are required to successfully complete fourteen hours of continuing education every two years. CE courses are offered across the state of Florida by the Florida Bail Agents Association (“FBAA”). Florida bail agents have other choices besides the state association for their CE courses since there are other approved providers, including some insurance companies, who offer courses.  But when agents pay tuition to the FBAA 100% of the money goes to the association. Most of the money raised through the FBAA CE courses is used to pay the lobbyist.

Who is accountable?

Government run pretrial release: “We hope defendants appear in court but if they don’t no one is actually responsible.”

So when you take a CE course through the FBAA you not only meet the legal requirement to keep your license but also are helping to fund the association that works for the betterment of all Florida bail agents.  This is the reason why I set aside one day each month to teach CE courses for the FBAA. All of the instructors of FBAA CE courses are volunteers.

Anyhow, I recently received a telephone call from a Miami bail agent who took one of the CE courses which I had taught. He was complaining that his $100 tuition check to the FBAA hadn’t been cashed even though it had been almost a week since the course took place.  I reminded him that I was a volunteer and assured him that all of the tuition checks for the course were forwarded by me to the FBAA office on the day after the class via UPS delivery. I followed up and confirmed that his check was at the FBAA office and slated for deposit the following day.  I had a passing thought that perhaps this gentleman was being obsessively frugal or controlling. Later that day, however, I checked my personal bank account balances on line. When I couldn’t identify a $9.49 charge from Amazon, I immediately called my wife to investigate the charge. (She confirmed she had purchased something.)

The lesson I took from these too ordinary small occurrences is that we pay careful attention to our own money. Our own money matters to us. Whether the government values our money is a different matter entirely.

At the same times as these two minor transactions occurred – my $9 purchase and the bail agent’s $100 check — a news story broke that $3.6 million dollars was missing from one of Miami Beach’s bank accounts. Evidently over an unspecified period of time — likely many months — someone illegally accessed bank information online and illegally transferred money from this City of Miami Bank account. They did this over and over again until they had stolen about $3.6 million of taxpayer money from the City.

With no evidence whatsoever, the Miami Beach City Manager was quick to assert his astounding speculation that he doesn’t believe that city employees are to blame for stealing the money. At the same time, two managers in the city finance department who should have noticed all of the illegal transfers were gracious enough to resign.  The city’s chief financial officer offered to demote herself to deputy finance director. Here, however, is the quote from the City Manager that left me dumbfounded:

“I don’t think that we could have prevented this, but we should have caught it sooner. This was not just one month of activity. We probably should have caught it earlier, and I’m trying to figure out if we did something wrong and where that happened.”

If we did something wrong? A Miami bail agent has $100 too much in his checking account and it prompts him to make a call and investigate. The City loses $3.6 million in dozens of illegal bank transfers over many months and the top city official says with a straight face that it couldn’t have been prevented. We care about money. Does the government care about our money?

This is food for thought as our opponents renew their ill advised cries to eliminate what they call “money bail.” The alternative to private secured accountable bail is invariably a government funded, government run program.  One of the reasons why private secured bail works so well is because we are financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance in court. And we all value money. Money incentivizes us. Money also matters to the friends and family of the accused who agree to share in the financial accountability for having the defendant appear in court.

Where does the buck stop?

 

Seven Questions about Bail, the Bail Business, and being a Bondsman

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding people have about bail?

I think people would be surprised by how grateful the family members and the accused are for the services which we provide. Most bail agents have a desk drawer full of thank you cards and letters. Getting arrested is often a wake-up call that forces the defendant and his family to admit that there is a problem which they can no longer deny. As bail agents we often have a front row seat and even get to play a small part in watching people transform their lives for the better.

We get "Thank You" cards.

We work very closely with family members of the accused and other members of their community circle in order to assure that we can guarantee their appearance in court. This includes working with the parties to establish affordable payments for the bond.

People are also surprised to learn that the bail agent — who owns and operates a small business in the community he or she serves — is almost always personally financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance. There is a common misconception that there is some big insurance company that will pay for failures to appear or that the bail agent can cut some sort of a deal. The reality is that the bail agent personally guarantees the defendant’s appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear the bail agent locates and apprehends the fugitive. Failing that, the bail agent pays a substantial penalty to the State. That’s why private, secured bail works so well.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the bail bond business?

Our biggest challenge lies in continuing to educate politicians and policy makers about what we actually do and the vital role we play in the criminal justice system. Private bail enables communities to protect themselves and secure a defendant’s appearance for trial while allowing the accused to avoid pretrial detention. The secured bail which is posted by the independent licensed agents in jurisdictions across the United States is the single most effective and efficient way to achieve those goals. We do this at no cost to the taxpayers.

Many politicians and policy makers are unaware that defendants bailed by a commercial surety are far more likely to appear in court and far less likely, if they fail to appear, to remain at large for extended periods of time. Too often we find ourselves competing against publicly-funded government pretrial release programs that advocate the wholesale release of accused criminals with no real accountability.  Accused criminals have a constitutional right to bail. The question is who should pay for that bail? The friends and family of the accused, or the taxpayers?

What do you think about the efforts of Equal Justice Under the Law and their lawsuits seeking to end “money bail”?

Not much. It’s possible they have good intentions but they are naïve, very entitled and very miss-informed young men who have no real understanding of our criminal justice system or the purpose of bail. They are using these lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits to bully and extort small municipalities. They hold press conferences touting their goal of “ending the American money bail system.” But what they are really seeking is the immediate release of any defendant who simply says that he cannot afford the required bail. They believe that “caging” people is inherently wrong. Well, there is a reason we have jails.

This outfit claims that defendants are jailed because they are poor. The truth is that defendants are jailed because there is probable cause to believe that they committed a crime. The community has a strong vested interest in securing their appearance at trial. These lawsuits seek to force communities to immediately release accused criminals based solely on their unsubstantiated claim that they can’t secure their bond. This is absurd, and dangerous.

What do you think of current efforts to change the role of money in bail? What do you say to critics who contend using money in bail is unfair to poor people?

Money incentivizes people. People work for it and value it. A key reason why secured bail works so well is because people don’t want to lose their own money. The family of the defendant doesn’t want to lose money. The defendant doesn’t want to lose money and the bail agent certainly doesn’t want to lose money. Why do we require “money deposits” when we rent an apartment? By using a private licensed bail agent, friends and family of the accused pay only a small fraction of the bail amount (in most jurisdictions 10%, and strictly regulated by the State). The bail agent then pledges the entire penal amount of the bail bond to the court.

Affluent people don’t always need to use a bail agent to secure their bonds. They post their own assets and the fear of losing those assets (usually money) secures their appearance for trial. They are hardly “buying their way out” of jail. Rather, they secure their appearance by providing the court with tangible collateral security for their bail bond.

Bail agents permit bail for only a fraction of what the court requires and typically offer affordable installment plans to facilitate payment. Bail agents don’t discriminate against the poor. Rather, we routinely enable those of lesser means to secure their pretrial release by working with their family members, friends and social network. Ironically, the same voices that cry for an end to “money bail” frequently advocate GPS monitoring, drug testing and other cumbersome and very expensive measures that have little or nothing to do with securing the appearance of the accused at trial.

Most bail agents agree that there ought to be a mechanism to secure the pretrial release of truly indigent non-violent first time offenders with strong community ties. This was the original incentive for bail reform.  Today, most of the larger taxpayer-funded government pretrial release programs no longer even screen for indigence. The EJUL lawsuits seek the immediate release of accused criminals based upon their own unsubstantiated claim that they cannot secure their bond.

Detractors of private secured and accountable bail claim that the poor languish in jail solely due to their inability to secure bail. Almost always this proves to be untrue. The majority of pretrial jail inmates with low bonds almost invariably have other holds such as immigration and previous warrants for failure to appear or probation violations, etc. It’s an unfortunate myth that bail discriminates against the poor.

What’s the only thing worse than the telephone ringing at all hours of the night and day?

The telephone not ringing at all hours of the night and day.

How would the criminal justice system function without financially secured bail?

Not very well. Look no further than Washington D.C. and Kentucky for answers to that question. Those jurisdictions spend enormous sums of taxpayer money with very little to show for it. The only thing that matters in a pretrial release decision is whether the accused defendant will appear and whether there is an acceptable risk to public safety in releasing the defendant. The larger publicly-funded release programs like those in Kentucky and Washington D.C. fail on both counts. They do a lousy job of ensuring appearance and almost nothing to assure public safety. They claim they “supervise” through the use of drug testing, GPS bracelets and the like but how well can you claim to monitor behavior when you can’t even guarantee appearance?

As an example, Washington D.C.’s pretrial release program recently placed a GPS tracker on an accused murderer’s fake leg to assure his house arrest. The defendant promptly swapped prosthetic limbs and left his house to go murder someone. Right up until the police obtained a search warrant and found the fake leg with the GPS tracker still attached, the pretrial release employees maintained that the defendant whom they were “monitoring” was still confined to his apartment. In Kentucky, accused defendants are regularly released even with a history of many prior failures to appear.

In short, most of these publicly-funded pretrial release programs fail in assuring appearance and do nothing to protect public safety. They are great successes, however, at spending tax dollars.

Their latest panacea is “risk assessment.” They claim that by utilizing often-times secret algorithms that they can accurately predict who will commit future crimes and who will appear in court. These so-called “risk-based decision tools” are a cynical attempt to evade any accountability. People like judges are no longer responsible or accountable for release decisions; it becomes simply a matter of risk data analytics. What you end up with is a system that releases dangerous felons with prior failures to appear because they score out correctly. Non violent defendants with strong community ties remain locked up because of “brave new world” risk assessment scores that predict the likelihood of future crimes.

Any advice for new bail bondsman?

 Bail bonding is real risk assessment. We are in the business of risk and the stakes are high. Listen. Listen carefully. Practice listening. Listen to what they are saying and listen carefully to what they are not saying.

Get political. Be active in your community. If you don’t have a terrific work ethic, consider finding another line of work. Learn everything that you can about everything that you can. Join and participate in your local, state and national bail associations. It’s not the bonds you write that will ensure your success; it’s the bonds you don’t write.  Don’t lie to yourself. Keep your word.

Watch out for identical twins.

What does it cost you to not join your local, state and national bail agent associations?

Near the close of the first full day of the PBUS (Professional Bail Agents of the United States) winter conference they hold a happy hour mixer and new member reception. I have been a member of PBUS for many years, so the Las Vegas cocktail party is a little less awkward for me than perhaps it once was. I’ve learned that you’re among friends who speak the same language you do and understand this business we’re in. I really enjoy being in a room full of bail agents from all across the United States.

Michael Hansen, Sr., a satisfied member of PBUS

Michael Hansen, Sr., a satisfied member of PBUS

Anyhow, I spotted a guy that I have never met before but had noticed earlier in the PBUS General Session featuring Michèle Stuart of Jag Investigations. Stuart had presented an all-day interactive breakout session on Internet Profiling and Intelligence Gathering. I asked this stranger what he thought of the class. He answered by pulling out his cell phone to show me a photo of a very unhappy looking guy sitting in the back seat of a car. He took a look at all the ribbons hanging off of my PBUS name badge. Concluding that I must be active with the association, he said, “You people need to raise the registration fees.”

Here is what happened. This agent, Michael Hansen, Sr., — like every other bail agent I spoke with — loved Michèle Stuart’s presentation. Even though it took up almost an entire day, most attendees were left with the feeling that it could have been longer still. Stuart really knows her stuff. And her stuff is of great value to us bail agents.

Michael Hansen, Sr., took notes during the class and paid particular attention when Stuart talked about how photos on the internet often contain “hidden” information which may well include geo-location on a subject. She taught us how you can often learn precisely where a photo was taken.

Hansen didn’t need to hear this part twice. He and his son, Mike Jr., have been seeking a fugitive on a $20, 000 bond they posted in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Using what they learned in the first breakout session of the PBUS winter conference, they had their bond skip in custody within three hours of the class.

This is why Michael Hansen, Sr., joked about PBUS raising their registration fees. This is also why his first PBUS conference will surely not be his last. What he learned directly resulted in the apprehension and surrender of his fugitive. This took place within three hours of learning the information in the PBUS class.  I didn’t catch a bond skip, but now if I need help in York, Pennsylvania I know who to call for help. And I also learned a thing or two (or 50) in Michèle Stuart’s class.

If you are in the bail bond business, maybe you should be making arrangements to join and support the PBUS. The summer conference will be in Biloxi this July. How much will it cost you to miss it?