California Bounty Hunter Guide: Requirements and Steps
With a population of over 39 million people, California is one of the states that allows the profession of bounty hunting (a.k.a., bail fugitive recovery) without licensing, but with some regulations for qualifications and training requirements. Bounty hunters in California are called “bail fugitive recovery agents” and they aim to catch fugitives who have skipped bail (or “skips”) and bring them back into the hands of law enforcement. In August of 2018, California passed a law intended to update its private, cash-based bail system in favor of a system that evaluates offenders based on risk. While cash bail is still available for those who opt for it pending the results of a statewide referendum to be held in November 2020 that will determine whether the law to abolish cash bail will be upheld or rescinded, the changes are likely to lessen the demand for bail bond and fugitive recovery services in the state. Continue reading below to learn more about the process for becoming a bounty hunter in California and the current requirements in place in the state for the profession.
Requirements for Prospective Bounty Hunters in California
While the state has no official licensing requirements for bounty hunters, California did enact the “Bail Fugitive Recovery Persons Act” in 1999, and then a new, updated version of the act in 2013. The act, also called Penal Code 1299 (or PC 1299), serves to provide a framework and some guidelines for those in California who want to make their living as a bail fugitive recovery agent.
In terms of qualifications, the Bail Fugitive Recovery Persons Act states that bounty hunters must:
- Bet least 18 years of age
- Have no felony convictions*
- Comply with the PC 1299 training requirements
*If you do have a felony conviction, you must have a Bail Agent license from the California Department of Insurance.
These requirements apply to all bounty hunters and bail fugitive recovery agents licensed after January 1, 2000. There are some exceptions to the requirements laid out in PC 1299. For example, licensed private investigators are exempt from all requirements above. Out-of-state bail fugitive recovery agents and private investigators who are licensed in another state may work in California, as long as they comply with California Penal Code Section 847.5.
Steps to a Career as a Bail Fugitive Recovery Agent in California
While licensing is not required in California, the following steps need to be followed in order to work as a bail recovery agent once you have met the above requirements of being 18 and having no felony convictions.
1. Complete at least 20 hours of bail education.
The first step to licensure for those 18 years of age and older is to take a California Department of Insurance certified Training Course. Both the Accelerated Bail Agent Pre-Licensing & Bail Fugitive Recovery Training course and the Bounty Hunting & Bail Fugitive Recovery courses cover this requirement and are combined into one for a fee of $550 as of February 2016.
2. Complete at least 40 hours of a Powers to Arrest course.
Ensure your course is certified by the California POST. The course found here fulfills the requirements.
3. Carry the certificates of completion of the training programs with you at all times.
According to PC 1299, once you have completed the coursework required to be a bail agent, you must carry the proof of completion with you at all times while performing your bounty hunting duties. This will protect you should you need to verify your authorization to perform fugitive recovery job duties at any time.
4. Optional: Apply for a Bail License with the California Department of Insurance.
If you have a felony conviction and would like to become a bail fugitive recovery agent in California, you must first become a licensed bail agent with the California Department of Insurance. Complete the Bail License application here.
5. Develop relationships with bail bondsmen to build your client base.
Perhaps the most important step in working as a successful bail fugitive recovery agent in the state of California is to build your client base. When you first start in the field, you will have to meet with bail bondsmen, get to know them, and gain their trust. As you gain experience, you should naturally be able grow your business by gaining more steady work with bail bondsmen who trust your work. Once you begin getting jobs, be sure to always carry with you the proper documentation of authority to apprehend the fugitive issued by the bail or depositor. The documentation must include the name and address of the bail or surety company contracting with you to catch the fugitive.
For a supplemental income or more opportunities and cross-training, we recommend that bounty hunters in California also consider being trained in these related areas:
Private Investigator/ Private Detective
Since it is closely related to bounty hunting, private investigation is the most likely profession that California bail fugitive recovery agents will choose to explore, and it is widely recommended by experts as a logical way to complement bounty hunting work and provide an additional source of income. Prospective private investigators must be at least 18 years of age and never have been convicted of a crime. The licensing process can take over four weeks once your application is submitted. In California, the steps to becoming a private detective or investigator can be found on the application on the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) website.
Many bail fugitive recovery agents in California decide to also be process servers in the judicial system in order to supplement income during slow times. To become a process server in California, you must pay a registration fee of $180 (as of February 2015) and register here.
Training and Education Options in California
While no formal education is required in the state of California for bail fugitive recovery agents or private investigators, it is recommended for the most motivated applicants to get a degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, political science, or criminal law. Many schools in California offer two-year associate degrees or four-year bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and related fields. Some police academies offer courses for those outside of the law enforcement field, and you may find training there to be helpful for your career. Again, while a degree is not required for bounty hunting, it could increase your chances upfront of securing work as a new bail fugitive recovery agent by setting you apart from the competition. Below are some programs in California offering two-year law enforcement degrees with a police academy:
3536 Butte Campus Dr
Oroville, CA 95965
Rio Hondo College
3600 Workman Mill Rd
Whittier, CA 90601
San Diego Miramar College
10440 Black Mountain Rd
San Diego, CA 92126-2999
After you have completed the above steps to be a bail fugitive recovery agent, it will be up to you to find work. Since the field of bounty hunting is heavily reliant on who you know, it will pay off in the long run to network and introduce yourself to prospective clients (bail bondsmen). You may even consider connecting with a more senior bounty hunter to see if he or she might be willing to mentor you. You could act as an apprentice or mentee of that person, accompanying them in the fugitive recovery process. This will not only allow you to meet and interact with people which could later lead to more full-time employment, but also it will serve as on-the-job training for you, which will prove invaluable as you start your career.
Featured Bail Agents in California
For California bounty hunters, bail agents, also called bail bondsmen, are the most common prospective employers. According to the organization Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS), there are around 115 member agents in the state. Below is a list of some featured agents, selected because they are in larger cities, have a website, and/or have positive customer reviews featured in search results.
Acme Bail Bonds
205 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Allergic to Handcuffs? Bail Bonds
3026 Midway Dr
San Diego, CA 92110
Bail Bond Woman
San Diego, CA 92122
Bail Bonds Direct
931 Vignes St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Big Boy Bail Bonds
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Creative Bail Bonds
5958 Van Nuys Blvd
Van Nuys, CA 91401
JM Bail Bonds
338 Jackson St
Hayward, CA 94544
Le Bail Bonds
949 Clay St
San Francisco, CA 94108
Lil’ Zeke’s Bail Bonds
14507 Sylvan St
San Fernando Valley, CA 91401
Veronica Melero Bail Bonds
598 E Santa Clara St
San Jose, CA 95112
To find even more bail agents and bondsmen in your area, use the Find a Bail Agent tool on the PBUS website.
Bounty Hunter Salary and Outlook in California
Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not currently offer data for bail fugitive recovery agents, we use the data for private investigators as a logical proxy. According to the BLS, California is the top employer for private investigators, with 3,640 employed as of May 2014.1 The metropolitan area including Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Glendale, California, is the area with the highest level of employment in the nation.1 The metropolitan area of San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara, California is the second-highest paying area for private detectives, reporting an average annual salary of $82,250.1 The employment outlook for private detectives and investigators is also positive for California. According to Projections Central, by 2022, the profession is expected to grow by 20%, which amounts to 800 additional positions in the field, or about 190 new jobs each year.3 This is almost twice as fast as the growth projected for the profession in the United States as a whole, which is around 11%.3
|City or Metropolitan Area||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Los Angeles–Long Beach–Glendale (Metropolitan Division)||1,110||$58,190|
|San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara||70||$82,250|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015.2
California is home to hundreds of bail bondsmen. You can start by looking up bail bondsmen in your city and state and reaching out to them to see if they have a need for new bail fugitive recovery agents.
- California Bail Agents Association – Offers resources and a directory of local bondsmen in different areas of the state.
- California Association of Licensed Investigators – Offers legislation information, access to a directory of private investigators, and membership benefits like professional development.
- Golden State Bail Agents Association – Founded in 2004 by a group of bail agents and offering lobbying efforts and resources for licensed bail agents in the state.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Private Detectives and Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm