On Friday, June 9, at the annual meeting of CT Superior Court judges, there was almost a unanimous vote to lower the bail threshold for people accused of a crime while raising the number of people who are eligible for it.
Bail bondsman Daniel Toner’s June 7 opinion in The CT Mirror noted the hazards of eliminating bail agents in Connecticut. The primary concern? The increased number of defendants who fail to appear in court and the inability of police departments to address this. I personally and professionally witnessed this same issue play out first hand 30 years ago.
I was hired as an inspector at the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney in 1990 after spending five years as an FBI special agent in the Washington D.C. area. In 1993, Connecticut bail bond companies were petitioning Chief State’s Attorney John M. Bailey to address a vexing problem: defendants who had posted bonds with bail companies and were routinely failing to appear in court. Worse – in the opinion of the bail bond agents – Connecticut police departments were not making any effort to re-arrest the absconders, even when the bail bond agents had located the likely location of the wanted felons.
Today, with almost every Connecticut police department critically understaffed, the crisis of bail absconders and fugitives roaming the streets and committing additional crimes will only worsen. The next time you read an article about a local arrest, note how many times the suspect was already wanted on previous charges, i.e. failure to appear, violation of probation or parole, or wanted on outstanding charges.
Chief State’s Attorney Bailey seized upon a practical solution. He would create two new units within his office: one made up of police inspectors, who would be tasked with locating and apprehending felony bail absconders; and one made up of prosecutors, who would coordinate the collection of forfeited bonds. Cleverly, a portion of the forfeited bonds would fund the salaries and equipment of the Fugitive Squad inspectors and staff.
Bailey (who was never reluctant to share his accomplishments with the press) was quoted in 1997:
Collecting bonds was one of the worst jobs a State’s Attorney could have,” says Bailey. A six-month wait for the money, combined with the tedium and inconsistency of negotiating with every bondsman, convinced Bailey to develop the Bond Forfeiture Unit for the sole purpose of collecting the bonds of fugitives. Thus far, Bailey says the unit has returned $1.5 million to the state’s coffers. And since the bonds were providing new funds, Bailey decided to reinvest them into financing the recapture of the running accused. The operating budget of the fugitive squad is funded entirely by the ceded bond dollars. “We use the bad guys’ money to go after them,” says Bailey, whose office keeps one-third of the forfeited funds.
It was a win-win solution. Initially, the newly formed Fugitive Squad consisted of just two inspectors. We soon became part of the New Haven FBI’s Fugitive Task Force. Due to our many successes, Bailey opted to increase the number of inspectors to six. Not only did the Fugitive Squad inspectors make hundreds of arrests within Connecticut, we also developed information leading to the arrest of Connecticut fugitives within and outside of the U.S., including Mexico, Canada and the Dominican Republic.
The collaboration was a tremendous success. At least it was, until I discovered that FBI agents were submitting falsified and untruthful federal arrest warrants to U.S. judges and magistrates in an effort to bolster their statistics. Worse, FBI agents were claiming the false information was provided by Fugitive Squad inspectors. When I became aware of this, I notified my supervisor and Bailey.
Bailey immediately removed us (the inspectors) from the FBI task force and initially allowed us to continue to work our cases, which we continued to do over the following year with great success (our caseload actually increased, as did our number of apprehensions). This infuriated the FBI, which continued to pressure Bailey to disband us, while the FBI simultaneously slow-walked their “investigation” into our allegations.
Bailey, who aspired to head the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, succumbed to the FBI’s coercion and suddenly announced “he” could no longer fund the Fugitive Squad. While we were fully funded and effectively catching Connecticut’s most wanted, the Fugitive Squad was disbanded in 1997. I later filed a lawsuit in federal court, which I won following a seven-day trial before a jury and a landmark legal decision (Dillon v. Bailey, 45 Federal Supplement 2D 167).
It would make sense for our state legislature to anticipate the likely consequence of this new policy: an uptick in defendants failing to appear for their court dates. A portion of forfeited bonds should be set aside to fund a state task force (perhaps this time hosted by the U.S. Marshals and not the FBI) to address this ongoing, vexing problem of defendants who continue to commit additional crimes while skipping their court dates.
Greg Dillon was a 30-year career law enforcement officer and is the author of The Thin Blue Lie: An Honest Cop vs. The FBI.