Jared Steiger sat at the bar in a San Diego Applebee’s sipping a diet soda. His white tank top showed off multiple tattoos, and he nervously checked his cell phone every few seconds. Before he was finished, the phone rang; he listened, threw down a $10 bill and sprinted for the door. His bright yellow Hummer sped out of the parking lot.
Within 20 minutes he was back at the bar, this time he ordered a beer.
“It was a false alarm,” he told the bartender. “I’ve been chasing this guy for a week, but I’ve got more time on my side than he does. I can wait.”
Steiger has made his living as a bounty hunter. Over the past two years, he’s earned enough cash to buy a home in Oceanside, a boat, and the Hummer.
“It’s a great job, but there’s a lot of frustration that goes with it,” he said. “It’s hardly ever like you see on Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
A bounty hunter is also known as a bail enforcement agent, fugitive recovery agent, and bail fugitive investigator. A bounty hunter captures people on the lam in exchange for a reward, usually about 10% of the bond amount.
When someone skips out on bail, bail bondsmen call up recovery agents such as Steiger to return them to court.
To become a bounty hunter in California you must be at least 18 years of age without a felony conviction. You also must complete a 12-hour pre-licensing bail education course followed by a 40-hour power of arrest course approved by Peace Officer Standards Training Board, as well as an 8-hour security guard course.
There are a few places that can provide training courses to help you start this toughguy career. The National Bail Enforcement Agency offers bail recovery training, membership services, skip training, investigation and recovery classes. The National Institute of Bail Enforcement is the oldest bail enforcement agency that offers bounty-hunting training. U.S. Cobra offers a national certification course in bounty hunting.
The most common way to get your foot in the door as a bounty hunter is to work for a bail bondsman free to show your skills.
Successful bail bond investigators can earn over $100,000 per year, and almost all active bounty hunters earn a minimum of $35,000, said Steiger.
“I started out working for free in Arizona and then moved back to California and found out the competition was even tougher,” he said. “ I worked for free again for about three months and started to make a name for myself. Now I have to turn work down.”
Although Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s character in her novels is a wise-cracking female bounty hunter who is constantly being beaten up and blown up, female bounty hunters are often have quicker instincts and are very desirable as bounty hunters.
The online Bounty Hunter Academy, reports that the number of female agent in their courses has risen 50% in the past five years.
“Women are less threatening in person and by phone and will not be suspected as a bounty hunter,” the site reports. “When a fugitive from justice (FFJ) thinks of a bounty hunter, they do not conjure up a female/woman. A woman has wiles and different instincts than a man. A man cannot ‘play up’ sexy and be persuasive in that arena. A female also offers up other qualities and attributes that a man cannot in this industry.”
Whatever the case, this is a different way to make a living — a little more rough edged than being a sales representative. Hours are often long and boring, with days and nights spent sitting and waiting while staking out a fugitive’s home. More often than not these fugitives will go back to jail just because you said “please.” But at times, you may find yourself being threatened. “That’s when the pepper spray comes out,” Steiger said. “I felt bad the first few times I used it, but now, if you don’t come quietly I have to spray. It’s a badass job, but someone has to do it.”