Bounty hunters are more than a mullet, a feather and a bicep bracelet, running down the street in Hawaii. The first thing that comes to mind when many think of bounty hunters is a reality show, or an over-the-top movie about mayhem and violence. Like many interesting professions, some of it’s true, but most is fantasy. “We are professionals; we’re not what you see on television,” says Greg Peterson, a local Bounty Hunter. “We’re not running around communities kicking down doors.”
“I was contacted by the U.S. Marshalls, a fugitive task force just wanting information,” says Peterson about one of his jobs. They were hunting for a dangerous criminal wanted for a heinous crime. The man had jumped bail and all law enforcement was looking for him, including the U.S. Marshalls, local police and the Washington State Department of Corrections.
Peterson picked up his partner and two other colleagues from the Tri-Cities and they headed north of Okanogan County. He and his team discovered the man’s parents owned a cabin in the mountains in a remote area, challenging to access in the winter. Peterson and his crew surrounded the cabin on foot and were able to apprehend the man, bringing him into custody without incident.
Peterson is not what you might expect from a bounty hunter. He’s under six feet tall with a slight build and speaks so quietly it’s difficult to hear over the background noise of the coffee shop. He doesn’t like to tell stories and really doesn’t like to brag, despite his accomplished 12-year career catching violent criminals. He’s frustrated that the profession has been “made a circus of” on reality television and wants to set the record straight. “I’m not big into the story thing; I’m here for the industry as opposed to beating my chest,” he says.
“It’s an industry that’s been tainted for a long time, for a lot of years prior to regulation specifically,” he says. “The challenge has been just to get the law and the community to not only understand what we do, but to recognize that we do provide a service.”
After a short career in telecommunications, a friend suggested they become bounty hunters. Peterson hadn’t known the occupation existed and was intrigued by the potential. “I became real obsessed, I guess, with the idea, and banged on doors of bond companies until I got an opportunity to go see if I could actually find somebody that didn’t want to be found,” says Peterson.
He eventually found a company that took a chance on him after a lot of imploring and has been doing the job ever since. “At that time, there was no regulation in Washington, in ‘03 or ‘04,” says Peterson. “It was kind of a free-for-all and the bond companies just used the people they already had. Some of them were ex-inmates; one of the first guys I worked with had done time in prison.”
When “someone gets arrested and booked into the jail, a bail is set,” Peterson says. “More often than not, they can’t afford it.”
This is when a bail bond company is contacted. A friend or family member then pays the company 10 percent of the bail and the company pays the rest to the court. If the defendant fails to attend every single court date, the bond company pays a bounty hunter to go find the person and bring them in.
In 2006, Washington State implemented laws requiring training, background checks, finger printing, exams, qualifications and fees to be properly licensed as a bounty hunter. This has since narrowed the field and made it much more difficult and expensive to get qualified.
Most of Peterson’s job is detective work. When a defendant fails to go to court, he first tries to find them and convince them to come in and quash their warrant. But, “sometimes people don’t do that,” says Peterson, “and we need to track them down. It’s a lot of knock and talk. We go and interview family members, friends, co-signers, and if that stuff doesn’t pan out we have access to data bases that give us a bunch of information. And informants, we have a lot of informants. Word on the street always trumps anything you can find from a database.”
Despite often being in dangerous situations, Peterson can only remember having a gun pulled on him one time. It happened while he was in pursuit of a man sought after by every law enforcement agency in the state. Brawling is more common. “There’s always fighting,” he says. “Ironically, more often than not, it’s with females.”
One of his best cases was in pursuit of a criminal with a $50,000 bail. “What made that story rewarding for us, was that we really had nothing to go off of and we were working in a county that we don’t live in,” says Peterson.
The co-signer on the bond money was their only lead, and she was uncooperative and still dating the defendant, but denying any involvement. Peterson found out that she had a daughter and surveilled her 24 hours a day. They saw the daughter meeting up with her mother in a parking lot. Peterson and his team followed the woman, losing them eventually in the mountains. After searching the area, they found an empty camp well off the road with a tent and makeshift garage.
He and his partner came back at 2:00 a.m. and found the two asleep in the tent. “We ended up taking him and he was a big guy – a really big guy. I had him crawl out of the tent, he was 6 foot something, almost 300 pounds. That was really rewarding, not just financially, but for the amount of time we’d put into it and multiple trips to the county. He went compliantly. There was no fighting,” says Peterson.
“To them, we look like the bad guys,” says Peterson. “We’re really not. We’re hired to do a job and that’s it. It’s not personal. I have no judgment. I don’t know if you’re guilty of the crime that I’m here to pick you up for. I’m no judge and jury, I just know that you entered into a contractual law agreement and you didn’t fulfill your end.”
Peterson has a Facebook page where he posts current photos of the fugitives he’s looking for. The public often sends private messages leading to arrests.