Bail Bondsman: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?


The bail bonds business is fairly straightforward. Upon arrest, defendants are jailed. Pre-trial, they can be released on their own recognizance (no money involved), on a cash bond (money the defendant pays directly to the court), or on a surety bond (a bail bondsperson gives the court a check for the full bail amount in exchange for a smaller, nonrefundable payment from the defendant; by Ohio law, that’s 10 percent of the bail amount). The bondsperson’s job is to make sure the defendant shows up to all forthcoming court dates. “If they don’t,” says Hamilton-based Berta Mills, who works with her husband Garath, “the court cashes our check.” If they cooperate, “we get our check back.” In three years, the Mills—licensed through both the Ohio Department of Insurance and a national insurance company and armed only with Tasers—haven’t lost a bond yet. Better yet, says Berta, “we give our clients respect,” offering free rides to and from court and sometimes grabbing them a bite to eat on the way.

Illustration by Matt Murphy

Is there such a thing as a typical day in your business? Garath Mills: One day we might not write one bond. [Then] there might be a week where we write five bonds [in] one day. Berta Mills: It goes from phone call to phone call. One minute we could be sitting here on the computer. The next 10 minutes we’re headed to Cincinnati, then to Dayton, [then] Hamilton. When that phone rings, we go. We’re on call 24/7.

Illustration by Tim McDonagh

How do you determine which clients to work with? GM: We need to have at least one cosigner, which is usually a family member; probably 90 percent of bail bondsmen go by that rule. If the defendant has never been in trouble before, we do a little bit of research: Did they just move to this state? Do they have warrants in other states? Or, if somebody has a lot of failure-to-appears… BM: If they’re a flight risk, we look at that and say, “OK, they’re gonna cause us problems and cost our company and their cosigners money. This is not for us.”

What happens when one of your clients doesn’t show up for court? GM: We’re physically looking for that person. I’d say maybe 10 percent of our bonds is a skip. On the skips we do get, 80 percent of them, we go to their address and they’re sitting on their couch… BM: Watching TV! They’re like, “Oh, man!” or our favorite, “I was about to call you!” Sure, I bet you were. GM: We’ve only had a couple where we’ve had to wear our armor. We had one that we had to get the SWAT team involved. And we’ve only had to taze one.

Is it scary, chasing after skips? BM: We were helping other agents. Garath and the other agent were looking for a skip, and me and [the agent’s] wife decided, “Let’s drive around on a different side of town.” She’s experienced; I had been licensed for a week. We spot this guy, and she was like, “Let’s get him!” She’s slamming through that door, saying, “I need to see your I.D.” She grabs him, swings him on the couch, and I just flew on him. I didn’t know what else to do! He was 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. Later, when he got in the car with Garath, he’s like, “That blonde is wiry. [She] was like a spider monkey!” I can’t believe I did that.

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