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Beware of Potholes

Driving on the streets of Indy this time of year looks oddly similar to the warm-up lap just prior to the start of the Indy 500 with commuters zigzagging on city streets.  The reason for the ess maneuvers is not to warm-up tires but to dodge the gaping pot holes created by all the salt put on the roads to deal with the ice and snow.

The Polar Vortex created a miserable winter for everyone from South Dakota to Texas to New York with regular doses of sleet, ice and record snow falls.  This may have been the impetus for the 2014 PBUS Winter Conference in Las Vegas enjoying record attendance.  The near perfect weather in Las Vegas was just too tempting to pass up for many of us.

The fact it was an election year at PBUS may have also contributed to the hefty turnout.  The candidates had strewn their campaign signs throughout the hallways and meeting areas.  No expense was spared.  The General Meeting segments were occasionally heated and at times tumultuous, which made for good theater.  Ultimately, Scott Hall was re-elected for another term as President and Marc Oudin of Arkansas was elected Treasurer.

During the conference I had a chance to speak with several bail agents from around the country.  The common subjects were professionalism and premium financing and payment terms. 

Bail agents have always provided a valuable service within their communities getting defendants to court.  Overall, more work needs to be done to enhance our professionalism and conduct.  As for allowing bond premiums to be made in payments, reasonable terms to pay the balance, is acceptable.  Allowing clients to bond out of jail with low down payments or no money down perpetuates a bad perception.  Even though the bail agent and surety are still liable for the full bond regardless of how much is paid, gives the appearance defendants are bonding out of jail for free.  Perception is reality for some people.

Bail agents must also find ways to broaden the services they provide to their clients and the court system i.e., GPS monitoring, interlocking devices, drug testing, etc.

It falls to the bonding company owners to set the example for dress code and conduct.  Surety companies should also encourage positive changes among their agency force.  A little effort can go a long way in improving an already efficient and effective private sector pretrial service solution that is the bail bond profession.

Another issue raised in conversation, was how little the judiciary, law enforcement and public defender’s offices know about bail bonds, their purpose and procedure.  Bail agents, surety companies and associations must do a much better job educating our partners within the criminal justice system.  Many state associations are already inviting court personnel to attend their continuing education classes and have bail representatives speaking at similar classes for judges and law enforcement.  This is a good start, we must do more.

From all appearances PBUS is in a really healthy place right now with membership numbers up and their fiscal house in order.  As a longtime member of PBUS I would really like to see our national agent association evolve into more of a resource repository to state bail associations providing empirical data and studies upon request to prevent the encroachment of ineffective public pretrial services, deposit bail options and excessive OR releases.

Every profession has its share of potholes.  The key to success is not to dodge the potholes but to fill them.