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Rio Grande Valley Agent Association Making its Mark

Posted April 18, 2018 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

When we think of associations for the bail industry, we tend to think of national groups like ABC and PBUS or state associations such as CBAA, PBAI, PBT or SCBAA. One must really think hard to come up with county level bail associations. I can think of San Diego, Orange and Santa Clara counties in California or Tarrant and Harris counties in Texas.  There is one other Texas county association way down in The Valley of the Rio Grande showing some grit, the Hidalgo County Bail Bond Association.

McAllen and Edinburg are the two largest cities in Hidalgo County with a population of nearly 850,000 residents. They are situated in what is known as The Valley, a four-county region which sits on the Rio Grande River across from Mexico.

Former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill is credited with saying, "all politics is local." The HCBBA has taken this assertion very seriously under its current president Rene Anzaldua.

Rene opened his bonding company, A-Quick Bail Bonds in 2003. I spent some time with Rene last week when we both attended the PBT membership meeting in Austin. Rene shared with me some of the initiatives the association has undertaken.

Rene said, recently retired bondsman Tillman Welch was a force of nature everyone relied upon to speak for the local bonding community. Rene, who was elected HCBBA president in January, knew he had big boots to fill if he was to lead the association into the future.  It was critical that the HCBBA maintain the same presence with the local criminal justice community.

Together with the help of HCBBA Vice President, Rene Ortega and Secretary, Irma Montemayor, they went about getting things done.

The first order of business was to increase their membership (which they did almost immediately) recruiting 22 of the 26 bonding companies doing business in Hidalgo County.

They wanted to build on the Meet and Greet with local judges and clerks held last October. At that event they presented each justice of the peace with a Texas flag that had flown over the state capitol.  Since then HCBBA has invited a local official to speak at each of their regular meetings.

Members of the HCBAA participate in local fundraisers revolving around golf outings, fishing tournaments and skeet shooting events. The HCBBA recently sponsored and members participated in the Annual Walk for Crime Victims and Survivors. The members recognize how the service they provide to those arrested for crimes also help victims by ensuring these individuals appear at trial.

Establishing relationships with other representatives of the criminal justice systems has afforded HCBBA members to provide a better understanding of how the bail system works, its effectiveness and benefits to the community.  Conversely, HCBBA members obtain a better understanding of the perspectives of law enforcement and members of the judiciary and court clerks.

Now when these same officials are approached by outsiders with grandiose schemes of risk assessment tools, computer algorithms and costly government pretrial release agencies, they can put those lofty claims into perspective.  Hopefully, they will send these solicitors on their way to the next town to sell their goods elsewhere.

Time and time again we find a key to stopping adverse legislative initiatives at the state capitol is a senator or representative who has a true understanding of the efficacy of the commercial bail industry solely due to the relationship established by a bail agent residing in their district.

If you're looking to start a county bail association or having difficulty getting your organization focused, reach out to the HCBBA. I’m sure they would be more than willing to provide some insights on where they've been successful.

The Loss of a Good Man

Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Yesterday, 19 year old Robert Dew was formally charged with the murder of veteran bail agent Byron Frierson, Sr., owner of No Limit Bail Bonds in Indianapolis, IN
The news of the loss of Byron came as a severe blow to those of us who knew and worked with him. Byron was a giant of a man, not only in size but in spirit and generosity.
Byron was a leader in his community and a leader in his profession, bail bonds. When local bail agents gathered to discuss issues they typically met in Byron's office at No Limit Bail Bonds. He was looked to for guidance and support. Byron and I talked often during his regular visits to American Surety Company's headquarters north of downtown Indianapolis. He was always interested in what was going on nationally with the bail bond business.
A veteran of 20 years in the bail profession, Byron had apprehended hundreds of fugitives without incident. He always worked with a team of professionals and was always prepared. The apprehension of Robert Dew took a tragic turn resulting in the loss of Byron's life. It brings attention to the risk to personal safety bail and recovery agents encounter every day when conducting apprehensions.
Services for Byron will be held Friday and Saturday in Indianapolis. Anyone wishing to assist the family with funeral expenses can send a check payable to Janice Frierson to American Surety Company and we will make sure Ms. Frierson receives your generous contribution.
On behalf of everyone at American Surety Company I want to extend our condolences to the entire Frierson family, Byron's friends and business associates who share in this great loss. Byron will be sorely missed.

2018 Will Be Pivotal Year For Bail

Posted January 3, 2018 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 8 Comments

Happy New Year!  I confess, this last year, my 35th working in the bail industry, was a trial indeed.  Spending more than 75 nights away from home, it was my busiest travel season yet.  Regrettably, this time was not all spent on promoting our company, American Surety Company, but rather working with my peers in the industry to preserve a vital component of the criminal justice system that has been around for more than a century, surety bail bonds.

The warriors of social justice have been working double time to replace judicial discretion on determination of bail with an algorithm based risk assessment tool that many state legislators, state supreme courts justices and state courts have been quick to support, perhaps too quick.  In the wake of their hasty decisions, many have suffered (e.g. crime victims, law abiding citizens and yes, even those charged with committing crimes).

The opponents of accountability have proclaimed the expanded pretrial release systems currently operating in New Jersey and New Mexico to be a glowing success.  So too, the free bail systems put in place in El Paso and Houston, Texas.  In actuality, these systems have been complete failures with skyrocketing failure to appear rates of which the local power holders have been diligently trying to protect by withholding critical data from public access.

As anticipated, the risk assessment tool is getting push back from various entities across the country.  The Utah State Legislature recently took on that states Supreme Court asking for a delay in changes made to the rules of criminal procedure for which they oversee.  Those changes would have implemented the Arnold Foundation’s risk assessment tool impacting pretrial release decisions.  The court acquiesced to allow the legislature to study further the efficacy of risk assessment algorithms.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has been vocal in recent months calling for the repeal and replacement of a constitutional amendment that overhauled that states bail system.

New York Governor Andrew Cumo was sent an email last November from a group of “Over 100 Community & Advocacy Groups across New York State” voicing their concerns regarding the use of risk assessments, calling the tool dangerous, ineffective and a move that would exacerbate racial disparities and cause jail over-crowding.

The New York City council passed Introduction 1696-2017, in December.  A local law that will create a task force to conduct an 18-month study of, in part, the possibility of racial bias in the various uses of computer algorithms related to age, race, creed, color, religion, national origin, etc.  The bill was sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio for his signature December 17, 2017.

Look for more states in 2018 to consider amending their constitutions to expand the language that would permit judges to preventatively detain individuals awaiting trial.

Additionally, convening state legislatures will be considering bail reform in California, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Utah.  Federal legislation is still pending and opinions differ on whether that legislation has legs, given the current composition of the U.S Congress.  Power could shift in the 2018 mid-term elections changing the outlook on both state and federal legislative initiatives.

Look for rulings to come down in federal lawsuits involving the issue of bail now pending in the 5th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal.  Trial begins February 12, 2018, in Buffin v. San Francisco, a case where the California Bail Agents Association have successfully intervened.  Regardless of the outcome of these cases, at least one case is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clearly, there are plenty of battles still before us.  With the continued efforts of the American Bail Coalition, state bail associations and many other stakeholders, those of us interested in a criminal justice system that holds criminal offenders accountable and protects society and victims of crime, can prevail.

One thing is for certain, 2018 will be a pivotal year for criminal justice reform.

Thousands of Unprocessed Rape-Kits Nationally

Posted December 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

All over the news lately is talk of the tens of thousands of rape-kits around the country that have never been processed.  An alarming number of these kits documenting a violent event in someone’s life, have been stockpiling for years, and in many cases, decades.

My wife Marcia works for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA).  Last night I attended, with Marcia and our oldest daughter Sarah, a premier of Mariska Hargitay’s (Law and Order SVU) documentary film “I Am Evidence.”  The film focuses on rape-kits and how many states have stockpiled them for years with only a few being sent for DNA testing.  In 2009, it was discovered the City of Detroit had more than 10,000 unprocessed rape-kits being stored in a dilapidated building, where the evidence was exposed to the elements.

Mariska Hargitay is the Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation which began the herculean effort to rid Detroit of its rape-kit backlog by seeing the crime evidence processed and the DNA samples entered into a crime database.  The investigations that followed identified more than 800 serial rapists from the thousands of DNA samples obtained from the rape-kits.  Had the rape-kits been timely processed, many of the rapes that took place may have been prevented.

Due to the efforts of the Joyful Heart Foundation, several other states began looking at their own rape-kit backlog.  Juneau, Alaska discovered 3484 untested rape-kits, Kentucky had 3000 and Wisconsin 2400.  Overall, there are more than 200,000 untested rape-kits in the United States.

As many as 18 states have passed legislation to address these backlogs.  There are calls for more funding (both private and government) to cover the cost of processing rape-kits, more training for law enforcement and hospital personnel and a tracking system to make sure victims do not get lost in the system and forgotten.  As one panelist put it following the showing of the documentary, the only thing more personal than sexual assault is murder.

We are seeing a plethora of support for issues pertaining to criminal offenders, from billionaire philanthropists, celebrities and professional athletes aimed at helping criminal offenders.  Yet we hear very little from these same groups, save Mariska Hargitay and her Joyful Heart Foundation, of efforts to assist victims of crime.  Where have we come to as a society when the focus is more on the welfare of those who choose to do harm to others as opposed to those who are being harmed?  Isn’t it time for society to refocus its attention and priorities on those who most deserve it?

States like New Jersey are spending hundreds of millions on a statewide pre-trial release system that awards free bail to repeat criminal offenders, yet is unable to provide any detail on how many rape-kits the state has backlogged and how many of those kits have been tested.  Taxpayer money and grant funding should be spent helping victims of rape and other crimes, not making life more affordable and comfortable for those charged with committing the crimes.

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, more than 200,000 rape-kits have gone unprocessed across the nation.  That’s an embarrassment and needs to be corrected.  Visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org to learn more.  

No parking anytime! Unless you want to.

Posted November 21, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Moving towards a Softer, More Gentle Criminal Justice System

I’ve been parking in the same lot at the Indianapolis airport for several years now.  In the past year or so I began noticing people were parking in areas marked in yellow and at the end of rows where there were no marked spaces.  The first time I saw this I figured, that car will be surely be towed.  However, when I got back in town a few days later that same car was still there, untouched.  In fact, a bright orange traffic cone had been lovingly placed near the bumper by security, to protect the vehicle.  It wasn’t long before more and more people began parking in spots not meant for parking and more and more orange cones were being placed to protect these violators.  Security with a heart?

It occurred to me, these seemingly innocent yet unenforced parking violations epitomized how our country is migrating towards a level of passivity for law breakers in which we may not soon recover.  Those individuals and groups pressing to end the use of bail to guarantee appearance, seemingly have no fear of the consequences, if their efforts are successful.  If bad actors feel no threat of reprisals for bad behavior (see the entire states of New Jersey and New Mexico) they will continue to act badly.  People who have walked close, but never crossed the line, may feel safe in doing so because the agencies with the power to enforce the law are electing not to do so.

Hamilton County is situated just north of Indianapolis.  Someone charged with mutilating an animal was released on a free bond, in April 2017, through that county’s pretrial release program after receiving a risk assessment evaluation.  The defendant missed his first scheduled court appearance after to being released from jail. The bench warrant still showed active as of last week.

A quick search on Google found the defendant to have been arrested with several accomplices for attempting to rob an Ohio pharmacy, just two weeks after Hamilton County released him on a free bond.

It’s not so much that the defendant committed another crime while out on a free bond. It’s that Hamilton County was unaware of this arrest because their prosecutor’s office placed a 250-mile radius on the NCIC warrant, as opposed to a national warrant.  Apparently, people charged with mutilating animals in Hamilton County must get beyond the “care zone”, if they want to avoid prosecution.  Free bond, free head start, free from being pursued.

Trending on Twitter is an effort to do away with probation and parole.  Probation and parole are legal options, based on eligibility, for someone convicted of a crime to either avoid being sent to prison or to be released from prison early.  Both probation and parole come with conditions that if violated, may result in the defendant being ordered by the court to serve out their original prison sentence.

The solution being offered to the perceived problem of too many probationers and parolees violating the conditions of their release, is to do away with these release options all together.  So, if we do away with probation and parole that would mean more people would be required to serve out their prison terms, right?  How does that solve the “over-incarceration” problem, you ask?  Well, because the answer for the no probation and prison advocates is not that convicted offenders would serve jail time instead of probation and parole, it’s that these individuals would simply avoid serving out their sentences, without condition.  Because if there are no conditions there can be no violations.

On my recent road trip, I decided to throw caution to the wind and park at the end of a row where nobody was meant to park.  I left believing I would return from my trip and my car would be towed. I thought I would be made an example to ward off any future violators.  I was wrong. When I approached my car, I found an orange traffic cone protecting my rear flank.  How thoughtful.