It's a lot like fishing. Some nights they can't miss, others they won't even get a bite.
Success is also weather dependent. The first night we joined them it was pouring down rain, and the fishing was good, real good.
The Bail Enforcement Agents, or Bounty Hunters, hit three spots, and caught three bail jumpers, and this certainly was no catch-and-release.
Bail jumpers skip their next court date after the judge awards them a bond. That bond is usually fronted by bail bondsmen. When a jumper vanishes, so does any hope of bail bondsmen recouping their money. Bondsmen are then (here comes the fishing analogy again) on the hook for the bond. "They have a certain amount of time that the judge allows them to get the fugitive back into custody or else they have to pay the bond," Lisa Yulo, a Connecticut Bail Enforcement Agent, said.
Yulo and her team of 4 are contracted by bondsmen to bring the bail jumpers back to jail.
On four separate nights, photographer Sharon Burke and I joined the team to get an idea of how the play. "Play" because the return on a bond is so little, they don't do it for the money. "I've been accused of being an adrenaline junkie," Bail Enforcement Agent Jeff Goldblatt said. One of his partners, Jay Richardson, admitted, "I'm doing this for the fun, it's a lot of fun for me."
Fun? Every night these guys go out, they risk being shot, stabbed or beaten. But they get to bust in doors if they think they've cornered their fugitive. An address on the arrest warrant is all the key they need to force their way inside. Also, if a lead leads them to another residence, they can kick down a door, pick a lock, or break a window if they spot the jumper inside. "It's our job to arrest these criminals and we have the right to enter these people's dwelling," Goldblatt emphasized.
Critics have argued for decades that current laws allow bounty hunters to be reckless and act like cowboys. That equals danger.
On night one, neighbors saw the team armed and kicking in doors, and thought they were witnessing a home invasion. Although the team called New Haven dispatch beforehand, police never got the message. Within minutes after the fugitive was captured, several cops came storming in with guns drawn. Police and the bounty hunters were then pointing guns at each other, with photographer Sharon caught in the middle of the potential crossfire. Fortunately, no one had an itchy trigger finger and cooler heads prevailed. "Some pretty scary moments," Richardson said the second night we went out, "I pinched my wife the other night when I went home and asked her if I was still alive."
Once again, it's all about the thrill of the hunt. "When I find them, it's just an amazing feeling," said a giddy Goldblatt.
An unforgiving Richardson put it all in perspective, "They're right where they belong after we bring them there."