- Finding Homeless People and Indigent Fugitives
A Book Excript from:
APPREHENDING BAIL FUGITIVES
The Business of Finding and Taking Bond Forfeiture Defendants
- L. Scott Harrell
- CompassPoint Investigations
- An excerpt from
The Business of Finding and Taking Bond Forfeiture Defendants
- Locating defendants or persons
with information critical to a client's case is a routine assignment
for investigators. We
have a myriad of resources available to us that can assist in
our efforts. The
proverbial "paper trail" we create as we go through
life, from a birth certificate all the way through our eventual
death certificate, many documents punctuate our voyage along
the way. Additionally,
we have a multitude of sources to check when searching for almost
any American: all of the computer databases, voter registration
indices, civil and criminal court filings, the telephone book,
crisscross directories, Motor Vehicle Department records, credit
card records, Social Security data, sometimes police reports,
and the list goes on at nauseam.
- What do you do, however, when
the subject of your search is not in the mainstream of society?
When there are no telltale signs we normally find along
the paper trail? Is
it even possible? Does
it happen very often? Yes,
it can happen, and more often today than ever before.
- An expanding segment of our population
does not leave the usual clues, but a record is nevertheless
created. These are
the homeless Americans we have all read and heard about more
and more over the last few years.
There are now many thousands of these people in this country,
and if you haven't already encountered them in your work, the
chances are quickly increasing that you will.
- These people are on the streets
for many reasons; they are "on the run", they lost
their jobs or homes, have no appreciable job skills or the ability
to find work. They may be mentally impaired, physically ill,
or may be alcohol and drug abusers, but whatever the reason,
chances are you will deal with them in a future investigation,
especially as it relates to the criminal justice system..
- Because of their vulnerability
and sometimes their own acts, street people are turning up in
increasing numbers as the victims, witnesses and perpetrators
in criminal incidents.
Over the last few years, my company has been called on
to help locate a number of these defendants.
In one case, the victim, the assailants and the witnesses
(who all knew and traveled with each other) were transients living
under a bridge a few blocks from downtown Austin, Texas.
- How do you go about locating
these people? Some
street people may not want to be located while others aren't
intentionally avoiding discovery but will still be hard to locate
because of the lack of the usual leads,
- Do not make the gaffe of thinking
that because homeless people have no visible means of support
that they are restricted from moving long distances in a relatively
short period of time. I have found street people in Central Texas
who have come from Michigan, California, Mexico, New York, and
points beyond. They
travel to more moderate climates, to places where they have heard
it was easier to get handouts or avoid prosecution, sometimes
just on a whim; they do wander and sometimes to far off places. In the case mentioned earlier, we found that
upon hearing that we had apprehended his co-defendant, a bail
fugitive had traveled from Austin to Dallas; a distance of almost
195 miles in only a few hours.
- To start your investigation,
you need some lead or basis to believe that your subject is in
a certain area. That
information may be developed from the subject's old friends,
relatives, associates, ex-employers, or your client (if acquainted
with or related to the subject).
The subject may have written or called someone and given
an indication of location or destination.
- Always check the jails in adjoining
or nearby counties! Next,
check with the local police department.
In Austin we can get incident reports that list dates,
times, locations and the primary participants.
If you do turn up a record of police contact with your
subject, it is probably outdated unless the subject is in another
jail or in a hospital. However, as limited as they may be, the
records can confirm that your subject was in the area
on a certain date and time.
They may also pinpoint the area where your subject hangs
- Hospitals and morgues are the
two other institutions that commonly have contact with the transient
population and are about the only ones that come from the routine
checklist you may usually follow.
- Your next step is to develop
two lists; the first is of shelter agencies that cater to transients;
the second is a list of places that these people typically congregate.
These two lists will probably have common characteristics,
but there will be separate, distinct locations on each.
Various places you might find on the first list are:
- · Salvation Army locations
- · Churches and church-sponsored
locations, including "soup kitchens"
- · Privately funded charity
- · YMCAs, YWCAs, etc.
- In many places, street people
have formed coalitions or associations to help deal with their
problems. Any of
these organizations may he able to help you locate your subject
or give you other leads. On your list of locations frequented by transients
you will find:
- · Bus or train stations
- · Plasma centers that
purchase blood from donors (and other income sources)
- · Day-worker pickup locations
where they can obtain labor jobs lot a short period
- · Common street locations
where transients frequent:
In the vicinity of the shelter agencies like the Salvation Army
Parks, bridges, highway overpasses, etc (protection from the
- In Austin there is an area called
"The Drag", a portion of a major street that runs along
the west side of the University of Texas campus.
There are several places here where transients gather
to exchange information about shelter locations and where to
get free handouts. They panhandle passers-by, share food or drink,
and if they can afford it, drugs.
In this particular location, they also pass out or just
fall asleep on the sidewalk.
- Once you have compiled your lists
of places to look and checked with the jails, police, and hospitals
then you are almost ready for the ground-search.
- Hopefully you have obtained some
or all of the following:
- · Subject's full name,
- · Age and/or date of birth
- · A photograph, as recent
as possible, and physical description
- · Medical data (illnesses
- · Mental health
- In some eases, as a next step,
you may want to prepare a "Missing" or a "Reward"
poster, whichever is appropriate for where you intend on putting
them. These are useful for leaving with businesses
or individuals, posting in shelter agencies and areas where other
homeless people may frequent; give them to people you interview
along your way. The
posters may generate additional leads on your subject's whereabouts,
particularly if there is a reward offered for information.
The posters should include a picture of the
subject, name, description, maybe a reason why you are looking
for the subject and how to contact you if someone has infor-mation.
If a reward is offered for information it should say so on the
poster. If you use
a "Missing" poster ensure you create a believable pretext
why the defendant needs to be found.
- Aside from a little research
and possibly some telephone work, you are going to wear out some
shoe leather and be dealing directly with people when you work
a case involving these people.
If you are one of those investigators who can't stand
computers and you like to do your investigations the old-fashioned
way, you are going to love this type of ease.
- In making your way around the
various shelter organizations, you nay run into problems getting
information from some of them.
A number of the facilities keep records of the people
who pass through them; for example, the Salvation Army shelter
in Austin keeps an index card on every individual who spends
the night. The card
shows a name, the date the subject stayed and has a short question-naire
for the subject to fill out about any health or mental problems.
But many facilities have policies or legal restrictions
preventing them from divulging much, if any, useful information.
In those cases it is often helpful to have a copy of the
defendant's warrant with you.
Most facility operators don't want the trouble that often
comes on the heels of a fugitive investigation and not cooperating.
- If you are going to use a pretext
method, I recommend leaving a message for the subject to pick
up (if appropriate to the case). Many facilities will take such
a message for the subject and post it for their clients to receive
if they come in to stay.
Be sure to leave a "Missing" poster and your
business card with the supervisor and the desk clerk. We have had several cases where, after we had
made contact with the facility management, we received anonymous
tips that our subject was at a specific location, most often
at one or two o'clock in the morning.
- Finally, you have to go to the
various locations visited by other homeless people, talk to the
people and check for leads or information.
Talking lo these people is not always easy.
They are often uninterested, evasive, drunk, or trying
to manipulate the investigator into giving them a handout.
So it will take all of your interviewing skills and some
patience to get information you can use.
- Remember the following steps
as you go about your investigation:
- · Obtain a description
of your subject and define a starting location for your search
- · Check jail logs and
other local records
- · Develop lists of shelter
agencies and locations fre-quented by transients.
- · Make a "Missing"
or "Wanted" poster in appropriate cases.
- · Contact shelter agencies.
- · Check the areas frequented