An Interview with Joe Stiles
“In an adversarial criminal justice system, where the expression ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is considered an axiomatic mantra, the bail agent is the vanguard of that system. Concerning himself with neither guilt nor innocence, his primary contribution is to produce a person, charged with a crime at the appointed place and at the appointed time to answer a charge lodged against him by the state. If he abandons that position and instead assumes a position of advocacy, he does a disservice to either his client or the judicial process or both.” -Joe Stiles, 12/10/15
Joe Stiles has been involved in the bail business as a bail recovery agent, bail agent, and owner of Bail Fast Bonding for over 30 years. He is an esteemed member of the National Association of Bail Bond Investigators (NABBI), and a former member of the Tennessee Board of Professional Bail Agents (TAPBA) and as Chairman of both their Internet and Education Committees. Joe Stiles began his career as a bail recovery agent and has hundreds of recoveries from over 30 states to his credit.
Joe Stiles is the first and only person ever granted permission by the Tennessee Board of Professional Bail Agents (TAPBA) to hold and certify his own independent continuing education class for Tennessee bail enforcement agents. It took place on April 28th and 29th, 2007 in Knoxville, Tennessee and drew attendees from not only all areas of Tennessee but Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia as well. As a founding member, Joe Stiles has served as Parliamentarian and Director for the Central Region of the National Association of Bail Bond Investigators (NABBI). Additionally, Stiles is an expert contributor to Pursuit Magazine.
We would like to thank Joe for taking the time today to discuss his experience in the bail recovery business.
Many people are not aware of the bail business and how it works- can you elaborate on how you became involved as a bail recovery agent?
I have always had that ready-to-go attitude. That attitude is what set me on the path to bail bonding more than 30 years ago. After graduating high school in Knox County, Tennessee, I found myself doing odd jobs for a wrecker service. “There were no jobs. I had nowhere to go. And I’m kind of an impulsive person, I think. While I was twiddling my thumbs in a stuffy tow-truck office, waiting for the next call, I saw a commercial about the U.S. Army. The next thing I knew, I was at the recruiter’s office, enlisting.”
I spent four years in the 101st Airborne Division, a rapid response Army unit that sent me on reconnaissance missions throughout Central America, completing independent work. After my tour of service, I worked at the county sheriff’s office. So when an old high school friend asked if I’d be interested in tracking down bail jumpers, I didn’t flinch.
Bail jumpers, are accused criminals who procure a bond to meet bail, then fail to show up for court. In that case, the bondsman has a specified amount of time to bring the accused to court—in Tennessee, it’s a generous 180 days. In my first weekend on the job, I nabbed a dozen bail jumpers—most of whom were simply hiding out at home.
How has your perception of the profession changed since you first became involved?
It really hasn’t. Yes, there are technological advances. After almost 30 years in the business that is a given. But, the important virtues that make a good bail agent/bail recovery agent are the same. I don’t think I am anything special. But, the central virtues of persistence, dependability and reliability are the qualities that have made me successful and are ingrained in any effective bail recovery agent. It is also important to me to help advance the image of the bail recovery agent. I believe it is an honorable profession and sometimes the media makes it appear not so. That is why I never use the term “bounty hunter.” Most reputable bail recovery agents find the term disparaging.
As you look at your career can you name one case that stands out as one that drew upon all of your skills and experience? Please elaborate.
I don’t want to specify one incident because I have worked cases all the way from Knoxville, Tennessee to Detroit, Michigan- but I would like to talk a little bit about how I view the tools of my trade. At one point there had been a lot of discussion concerning the wearing of a badge by bail recovery agents. Some law enforcement officials do not give much credence to bail recovery agents and try to disparage the legitimacy of our badge. They have even gone so far as to say that we are wearing a fake badge. This is what I have to say about that. The advantages of wearing a badge are many. It identifies me to law enforcement officials and the public at large as a man on a mission. The badge lets them know that I am there to investigate the whereabouts of a wanted person. Here are a few things I do not use the badge for- I do not use it to get out of paying speeding tickets as a “professional courtesy.” I do not use it to get free coffee or discounted meals or get into the movies or a local attraction for free. As Joe Stiles, a bail agent and bail recovery agent, I have two things that I wish to be remembered for at the end of my time here. My life and my integrity. So I believe that as long as I carry the badge with respect and honor and use it for the purpose for which it was intended then my badge is as real as I am. And that is good enough for me.
What skills or educational experiences would you advise someone who wants to become a bail recovery agent to acquire?
The majority of bounty hunters have a mixture of military, or law enforcement background. I have known many bail recovery agents and most are in great physical condition. I am a member of the National Association of Bail Bond Investigators (NABBI). Of the bail recovery agents that I have known, their assets lie in their investigative background and peak physical condition. Both of these assets help in the fugitive recovery business.
What are two or three of the biggest challenges that a new bail recovery agent would face when entering the field?
One of the best ways to cut through any challenge is to network. As the owner of my own business for over 30 years I have built a stellar reputation. One of the ways I have accomplished this is by always being available. That is one of the most challenging parts of being a bounty hunter. Being on call 24/7 is not for the faint-hearted. If you want a job that is predictable, where you can get in the office at 8 and leave at 5- the bail business is not for you. I pride myself on always be available to those who need my services. Those who wish to enter this field need to understand this challenge.
If you could do anything differently in building your career, what different turns would you take, if any?
I do not think I would do anything differently. I have made it my personal mission to hold my integrity dear. Those who know me and know my work are clear that my intentions are backed by my personal guarantee. Integrity is not just a word to me- it is part of the way I view my work as an owner of a company, a bail agent and a bail bond recovery agent. I have also made my career successful by working with and getting to know many different individuals in the business. My personal motto is “If I’m the smartest person in the room, I shouldn’t be there”! I think it is important to learn at every point in your career.
In your view, what are the three most important and positive benefits of being a bail recovery agent?
If you are a persistent, dependable and reliable individual and commit yourself to the bail business the independence of building a stellar reputation and being able to be true to your own personal belief system is of great benefit. Another benefit is the opportunity to be able to move about and get to know a wide variety of people and geographical areas- from many different perspectives.
In your view, what is the biggest challenge in being a bail recovery agent?
As time goes on the challenge is not so much the job as it is the knowledge that every day is different and every case is different. One challenge I have taken on in my own career it to elevate the image of the bail recovery agent. We are an important arm of the criminal justice system and as I said in the beginning, we are the only part of the criminal justice system that does not advocate in any way- we are not biased in our approach to the system.
Is there any further advice you would share with students considering fugitive recovery as a career?
Keep an open mind and get to know people in the business. If you are doing your job well, you will become well-known on your own. Networking is key in this business. Join your state and the national associations and attend conferences – become a constant learner.