It's time to "de-thug" Kansas' bail-bond and bounty-hunting business, law enforcement officials say.
Citing examples of heavy-handed intimidation or worse on the part of bondsmen and the bounty hunters they use to track down bail jumpers, police are pushing the Legislature this session to ban people with criminal records from the trade.
"There really are very few bad apples that are abusing the power, but they're abusing people seriously," said Kyle Smith, a spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Police cite at least one local example that they say illustrates the severity of the problem, but some Lawrence bail bondsmen oppose parts of the proposed law and say the problems are being blown out of proportion.
Bail bondsmen exercise great power over the people they bond out of jail.
With some exceptions, they can do whatever it takes to make sure the person appears in court, even if it means sending out bounty hunters dressed in tactical gear to kick in a defendant's door and take him away in handcuffs.
But law-enforcement officials say there's a problem: There are no definitive laws prohibiting criminals from working in the business. Senate Bill 299, currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, would prohibit people with certain crimes in their past -- including all felony crimes and, within the previous 10 years, some misdemeanors -- from working as bondsmen or bounty hunters.
"I think the intent of the bill is to de-thug the profession," Smith said.
The law also would require bondsmen to notify police when they intend to arrest someone, and failure to follow the law would result in a felony criminal charge.
Bail bondsmen derive their power from an 1872 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found bondsmen actually take custody of a defendant. Along with that comes the authority to place the defendant under arrest and bring him back to justice if he fails to appear in court.
Lawrence Police Detective Dave Anderson, another supporter of the bill, cites at least nine incidents of what he calls "outrageous acts" in recent years by Kansas bondsmen or bounty hunters, incidents in which they were convicted of crimes including assault, battery, manslaughter and drug dealing.
"Clearly, we have a serious and recurring problem in Kansas," Anderson told a legislative committee in November.
The one local incident Anderson cites is a January 2001 case in which he says bounty hunters used "bullying and misrepresentation" to gain access to an East Lawrence home while looking for a bond jumper from Kansas City.
The case led to the conviction of 42-year-old Tim James, of Lawrence, for criminal restraint, a misdemeanor. A Kansas City bounty hunter, whom James had been assisting, was convicted of attempted aggravated burglary and making a criminal threat.
A Jefferson County jury recently found James guilty of aiding and abetting aggravated robbery in connection with the 1999 robbery and beating of an elderly Perry man. He's scheduled to appear for sentencing next month.
The law would prohibit people like James from working in the business. That's too bad, said Jim Price, a local bondsman who had used James as a bounty hunter in the past.
Price said James was getting a bad rap, and he said he thought the incidents cited by Anderson were being blown out of proportion. He said his business already was well-governed by state insurance regulations, and he said he didn't want to be required to notify police every time he was planning to make an arrest.
"Why should I tie up the resources of the Police Department every time I'm going to pick somebody up?" he asked.
|The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to act today on Senate Bill 299, which would prohibit people convicted of certain crimes from working as bondsmen or bounty hunters. Visit www.kslegislature.org for more information.|
Other local bail-bond agents had a mixed reaction to the proposed law.
Sam Fields, owner of AJ's and Applejacks bonding companies, said he could understand the value of getting criminals out of the field, but he bristled at the idea of having to notify police every time he planned to make an arrest.
"Bondsmen should be able to go out, make a forced entry if necessary, make an arrest, and not be handicapped by the local police force and their inexperienced rookie officer who may or may not have knowledge of what our powers are," Fields said.
Michelle Hattemer, owner of ABC bonding of Oskaloosa, said she didn't have a problem with the bill. She says she regularly gets calls from people wanting to offer their services as bounty hunters for a fee, and she's usually skeptical.
"A lot of people take it as a power trip, and you can't do that," she said.