Interview Issue: Al the Bounty Hunter
Thu, Jul 2, 2009 (midnight)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Interviewed May 29 at Starbucks in Green Valley
What got you interested in this as a career?
I knew somebody that did it for almost 50 years. I learned his way of life, his stories, and it got me curious. Then I did some work for him part-time to make some extra money while I was going to school. I got hooked on the adrenaline rush of it. I’ve been doing this in Las Vegas for the last five years. And by the way, we’re bail enforcement agents. The term “bounty hunter” was created in 1887, but we’re trying to get away from that term. Our job is to protect the bail companies and make sure that they don’t pay on these bonds.
How does the authority of a bail enforcement agent differ from that of a police officer?
Police officers are sworn in; we’re not. But we have the ability to go anywhere in the world to catch a criminal. We’re backed by the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve gone as far as Chicago.
We’ve all seen the movies about bounty hunters, as well as the A&E series on Dog. Is what we see, for the most part, accurate?
Some shows yes, some no. Dog is not accurate. I mean, we don’t hook and book suspects without being armed. We don’t go with just mace or paintballs. You never know what a human’s going to do. Human is the most ultimate prey. They can do everything that we can do. When you go after someone to take their freedom, they’re going to do whatever they can to make sure you don’t take that freedom.
Just how dangerous is this job?
It’s the same as law enforcement. You don’t know if today’s your day or not. I have three agents who work with me, and we’ve all been shot at and had numerous weapons pulled on us.
Describe a typical case.
We had one in Yarnell, Arizona, a $20,000 bond. This guy had numerous drug charges, credit card fraud, identity theft. We tracked him there because that’s where his mom lives. We watched her house two to three days, and there was no movement. There was a garage, and we kicked the door in and started going through the trash. We found an address with a girl’s name on it. That took us to Scottsdale. We discovered the cops wanted him, too, because he had just been involved in a high-speed chase where he got away, so we decided to work with the officers. We started circulating his picture and telling everyone he was a sex offender so they would contact us the minute they saw him. And it worked.
We decided to hit the house, but while we were approaching, one of the guy’s friends opens a window, sticks a gun out and starts firing shots. Both shots hit me in my bullet-proof vest, so I was fine. My partner was able to grab him and pull him out of the window, but the defendant got in a fight with my other partner and tried to remove his gun. But we have locked holsters, so that doesn’t happen. We had to tase the guy four times. That kind of thing is pretty typical.
- The Interview Issue
- Scott Zeiger: Co-chief executive officer, BASE Entertainment
- James Woodbridge: Music promoter, philosophy professor
- Sunset Thomas: Adult entertainer, reality-TV star
- Alexandra Berzon: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter
- Cindy Funkhouser: Co-founder, First Friday
- Charles Geocaris: Director of the Nevada Film Office
- Keith Schwer: Director, UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research
- Rev. Deacon Bonnie Polley: Chaplain, Clark County Detention Center
- Dave Kirvin: Partner, Kirvin Doak Communications
- Vicki Pettersson: Author, Signs of the Zodiac novel series
- Candice Nichols: Director, The Center
- Lawrence Sands: Chief health officer, Southern Nevada Health District
- Virginia Valentine: Clark County manager
Besides a gun and vest, what other tools do you employ in catching criminals?
Mace, tracking devices, night vision, surveillance cameras, computer software. And disguises. Lots of disguises. We have done everything, I mean everything you could imagine. I’ve gone to doors with Domino’s uniforms and good-smelling pizza. I’ve gone as a UPS person with a package. I was a clown for a little girl’s birthday. My partner went as Santa Claus, and I was an elf. One time I was a shrub.
How much does role-playing play in this job?
It’s a big part of it. You have to think like a criminal and act like a criminal but not become a criminal. You have to be a very strong person mentally. To keep your sanity, you have to have hobbies and find other stuff to do—going fishing, camping. You have to be able to separate.
How many people a week does a good bounty hunter put in jail?
It can be anywhere from five to 10. Criminals are smart in a certain way, but in a lot of ways, they’re very predictable. They have a comfort zone, and they don’t often leave that comfort zone. They may leave for a week or a month, but they typically always come back. And when they do, they leave a trail. And when you hunt, you’re always going to open more doors.
What’s the most unusual case you’ve ever worked on?
I went to pick up this one guy, possession of cocaine, marijuana, burglary, and we’d been watching him. The neighbors knew he was there. He had a two-story condo, and wasn’t answering the door and wouldn’t come out. So we borrowed a ladder from maintenance and went to the second balcony at midnight and broke the sliding glass door in.
We burst down the door and discovered he’d been trying to climb into the attic, but he was too heavy and was stuck. And he was naked. I tased him from below—right in the ass. He was being real surly with me, so I took him to jail in a dress with blue and pink flowers.