TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner introduced a bill today which would place greater restrictions on bounty hunters, following a botched raid this past Monday in Trenton that leaves the effectiveness and legality of the profession in question.
“Bounty hunters say they stand for justice, bringing in fugitives who have skipped on bail, but we have to be careful that they are not employing many of the same tactics used by the fugitives they capture,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Monday’s case shows that, too often, bounty hunters use barely legal, if not patently illegal, methods to bring in their targets. We need a strong regulatory system to ensure that they do not overstep the law, using justice as a smokescreen for unsafe and reckless activities.”
Senator Turner’s bill, S-2829, would provide a number of safety and regulatory checks on the bounty hunter profession in New Jersey. Specifically, to conduct business in New Jersey, all fugitive recovery agencies must register with the Superintendent of State Police, and bounty hunters and their employees must all undergo a criminal history background check before they can work in the State. The bill also clarifies that bounty hunters do not get special consideration in regards to the right to carry arms, and must undergo the same process civilians would, and prohibits bounty hunters from operating with any special police powers.
“We’re lucky at this point that, with such an unregulated industry as fugitive recovery, no one has been shot,” said Senator Turner. “There are cases of mistaken identity in New Jersey, cases of vandalization and property damage, and bounty hunters do not have the training or mandate to operate safely or legally. We reserve certain rights and authority for the police, and through this bill, we will clarify that bounty hunters do not have the legal standing to overstep the law.”
According to Senator Turner, Monday’s case, in which four agents of Tri-State Fugitive Investigations broke into a house on Passaic Street, is a first-class example of why the power of bounty hunters has to be held in check by State regulation and scrutiny. Senator Turner said that bounty hunters traditionally point to a 19th century U.S. Supreme Court decision to grant them certain quasi-governmental powers and privileges, but noted that such powers are not in keeping with today’s world.
“The Supreme Court decision most bounty hunters point to as their judicial mandate is over 130 years old, and in no way reflects the authority or responsiveness of the modern-day police force,” said Senator Turner. “In the 19th century, there may well have been a real need for bounty hunters to help protect against bail-jumpers, but today, well-trained and professional police forces are the norms, not the exception. We need to have something in place to make the point clear that the vigilante tactics perpetrated by bounty hunters in no way reflect the real world needs of the people of New Jersey today.”
Senator Turner noted that Assemblyman Peter Barnes, D-Middlesex, has long been pushing for greater regulation of the bounty hunter profession. The Senator added that she looks forward to working with Assemblyman Barnes to advance the bill in the State Legislature and into law.
“There is no room for lawlessness in the name of law enforcement in New Jersey,” said Senator Turner. “Assemblyman Barnes and I will push for consideration of our bills in the Assembly and Senate during the lame duck legislative session. We must put common sense regulations on the fugitive recovery industry, before someone, be they bounty hunter or innocent civilian, is hurt, or worse.”
The bill is pending consideration before the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.