After seven years as a deputy sheriff, Rob Dick quit his day job to become a full-time bounty hunter, opening the California Bail Education School in the early 2000s. Excerpted from an upcoming Back to School episode of our podcast MEL: On Air, these are the lessons Dick teaches his students about a career that’s been glamorized and vilified in equal measure.
Lesson #1: Business Is Best at the Holidays
“Christmas means home with family, opening presents and hanging out and seeing relatives. That’s exactly why it’s one of our busiest days of the year: Because no matter how bad you are, you’re going to spend the holidays with your family. It’s easy pickings — that’s our present. The only drawback is that bounty hunters have to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving on a different day, since those days are going to be work days.”
Lesson #2: Always Have a Partner
“You never want to do this by yourself. It’s usually a team job — at least two people, sometimes three, depending on the situation. You cause situations by doing something by yourself: If a target and I come face-to-face, there’s automatically going to be a fight-or-flight situation in their head. Are they gonna try to beat me up? Or are they gonna try to flee? If me and another person approach, however, the odds aren’t in the criminal’s favor and maybe they’ll just go ahead and comply.”
Lesson #3: No Taxpayer Dollars Ever Exchange Hands
“The great part about bail and bounty hunting is that it’s the only part of the criminal justice system that’s self-sufficient. There’s no taxpayer money involved in any of this. When a person goes to jail, they’re going to have a bail. Say someone has paid $10,000 to post a $100,000 bond and then the person fails to appear in court. The bail agent must get that person back into the system by hiring a bounty hunter to go pick them up, or they stand to lose $100,000. So that $10,000 they get back if the target doesn’t skip bail is probably what they’re going to be paying the bounty hunter to solve that $100,000 problem.”
Lesson #4: There Are Internships for Bounty Hunters
“Even once you’ve had your state-required training, it would be a rare thing to just pick up your keys and go out by yourself. Normally you’re going to approach a bail bond company and say you want to get into the industry. You’ll tell them about your training and what you know, and then that bonding company is going to say, ‘We already have these two guys doing our stuff, why don’t you go out with them? They’ll report back to me and see how you do.’ You’re going to go out as an extra set of eyes — kind of like a ride along — but you’re still qualified and still participate. If everybody hits if off and they think you’ve got your wits about you, you’ve more or less worked yourself into a job.”
Lesson #5: Being a Bounty Hunter Is Hell on a Relationship
“A lot of times, you’ll have couples getting into [bounty hunting together], and if you can work together with your other half and get along, that makes life real fun and easy. I always say that when you’re out with your partner, you’re pretty much married to them anyway. If you spend 15 days in a car traveling across country with someone, you better get along with them.
“As far as a more normal marriage — where one person is a bounty hunter and the other has a regular job — there’s a lot of strain. You have to have a real trusting relationship, because on the bounty hunting side, because it strains things when your phone rings at 11:30 at night and you got to jump out of bed, head off to somewhere faraway and don’t have time to explain where or why.
“The other thing is being able to commit to a lot of stuff. It would be nice for a bounty hunter and their other half to say, ‘Two Saturdays from now, let’s go to the beach.’ But then, the Thursday before, you end up on a hunt that takes you out of state and you have to say, ‘Sorry, we’re going to have to cancel everything and do it on another day.’”