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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

It can be a physically demanding job. It can be a dangerous job. But Rex Shaffer and his partner, Rick Arnall, who own Queen City Bail Bonds, said smooth talking and a little finesse go a long way in their line of business.

Shaffer founded Queen City Bail Bonds in 1979, and Arnall became his partner in 1981. For the first 11 years, Shaffer and Arnall operated the business by themselves.

That's something if you stop to consider that Queen City Bail Bonds is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

These days, however, Shaffer and Arnall rely on 14 employees to help them keep things running efficiently, and they've expanded operations. In addition to the home office in Springfield, Queen City Bail Bonds has satellite offices in Bolivar, Cassville, Buffalo, Galena, Gainesville, Mt. Vernon, Monett, Branson, Forsyth and Ozark.

So what does a bail bondsman do, exactly? If you've never bailed anyone out of the pokey, here's how it works.

Once arrested and booked, most defendants will try to get out of jail pending the conclusion of their case. Many of these defendants are released on bond. The bail bond amount varies depending on the nature of the offense or the likelihood that the defendant might flee the jurisdiction.

Some people get out of jail using a cash bond. A cash bond requires a person to post the total amount of bail in cash, and the court holds this money until the case is concluded.

Most people don't have enough money for a cash bond, so they turn to a bail bondsman. The bondsman issues a surety bond, more commonly known as a bail bond, which guarantees the defendant will appear in court. The bond agency is fully liable if the defendant does not appear in court. To offset any risk, the bond agency charges a fee for this service and often requires collateral from the guarantor.

At Queen City Bail Bonds, the fee is 10 percent of the total bond amount. In addition, Shaffer and Arnall take the names of references and get collateral, such as property, to secure the bond.

Still, Shaffer and Arnall could lose a lot of money if they've issued a bail bond for someone who fails to appear for a court date. When this happens, things get interesting.

Usually, Shaffer or Arnall call the defendant's friends or family members to see if they can locate the person. Once the person is located, the two rely mainly on the power of persuasion to get the job done.

"We used to work as salesmen for a fruit company," Shaffer said. "We still work as salesmen, only now we're not selling lettuce and bananas. A lot of cowboys and bounty hunters get into this business because they think it's easy, but they're usually gone within a year. To do this job, you have to be a people person. You have to know how to talk to people and convince them to do what it is they're supposed to be doing appearing for their court date."

If all else fails, however, Shaffer and Arnall have the authority to hunt down and arrest the individual. They also have a full-time employee who specializes in retrieving bail jumpers.

According to Arnall, most of Queen City's clients are good people who have found themselves arrested because of minor offenses such as unpaid traffic tickets or because of revelry gone a little overboard. A few of the clients, however, are regulars.

"We're now working with the fourth generation of one family," Shaffer said. "If we stick with this long enough, we'll probably see the fifth generation in here. This is a crazy business. We get Christmas cards from everybody ranging from lawyers who recommend us to their clients to folks who are now in prison."

The real challenge, according to Shaffer and Arnall, is knowing who is a good risk and who isn't when it's time to write a bail bond. Over the years, the two said they have become pretty good judges of character.

"We've learned what questions to ask people, and what things to look for," Arnall said. "I'd say 99 percent of the people we write bonds on return for their court date."

Another challenge the two face is keeping up with seasonal fluctuations in business. According to Shaffer and Arnall, nobody likes to spend the holidays in jail, and around Thanksgiving and Christmas they spend a great deal of time tracking down clients who fail to appear in court.

The bail bond business is largely unregulated, according to Shaffer and Arnall, but Queen City Bail Bonds is licensed by the Missouri Division of Insurance. They belong to a bail bond association that is lobbying to establish better industry standards.

Currently, each state establishes its own regulations regarding bail bondsmen. In general, however, bondsmen have more latitude than law enforcement officers when it comes to apprehending a defendant. Although the law varies, in many cases bail agents are not required to have a warrant or follow extradition proceedings if a defendant is apprehended in another state.

"Right now, the bail bond business is largely self-policed," Arnall said. "This business is as dangerous as you make it. We'd actually like to see more industry standards get passed to make things a little bit safer for everybody."[[In-content Ad]]

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