The rules of bounty hunting have changed since the Old West days, when the sheriff would round up a posse and promise a hefty bounty to the cowboy who brought a fugitive back dead or alive.
These days, bringing back a fugitive dead could mean lawsuits and other serious legal ramifications for the captor, said modern-day bounty hunter and bondsman Ed Wilson.
"If I do it right and do it professionally, then I can save myself from lawsuits and other trouble," he said.
The politically correct term for bounty hunting is now fugitive recovery or bail enforcement, he said.
Besides shedding the old-fashioned name, fugitive recovery agents have also taken on a whole new approach to tracking down bail jumpers.
The goal of a bail enforcer is to find criminals who skip town, breaking their agreements with bail bondsmen to show up in court as scheduled.
Unlike the characters in Fall Guy and Renegade, TV shows based on characters who play bounty hunters, Mr. Wilson said he doesn't spend most of his time hanging out in sleazy dives looking for leads.
He lets his fingers do the walking.
"I work smart and not hard, and I do that by tracking on the telephone or the Internet," he said. "To me it's not glamorous. We're not trying to be renegades. We're professionals. We're trying to make bail enforcement a professional profession."
Mr. Wilson said he has several computer programs that supply information about a person. Some programs provide telephone numbers that are unlisted through the phone company or provide every address a person has ever used.
Also helpful are a few tricks of the trade, such as going through the garbage of a fugitive's relatives and friends.
"I can watch you put your trash out on the street and then go through it, and there's not a thing you can do about it," he said.
In the trash, Mr. Wilson looks for addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or anything else he can enter into the computer.
There's even a trick called 1-800-trap-mail, where a person is sent a postcard declaring that he has won money or has a package and must call or show up at a designated place to collect.
Mr. Wilson said what he does isn't lying. "It's pretexting," he said.
Mr. Wilson has had extensive training in law enforcement and bail enforcement. As director of the Northeastern and Southeastern Academy of Bail Enforcement, Mr. Wilson teaches fugitive recovery in North Augusta and New York.
A former Richmond and Aiken County deputy and Sardis police chief, Mr. Wilson said he has traveled as far as California to pick up a fugitive.
He stresses the importance of taking safety precautions to his students, who must have many of the same qualifications as police officers.
A bail-enforcement agent is required to register with the police department when arriving in town.
"We try to assist law enforcement agencies," he said. "The difference between us and the police is we have the right to kick in doors without a search warrant."
Subject: Ed Wilson, bail-enforcement agent
Years in field: About four
Training: Internal Institute of Bail Enforcement and National Association of Bail Enforcement.
Most boring part of the job: The actual investigation.
The best part of the job: "It's the thrill of tracking down an individual and bringing them to justice."
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