SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As if the search for Brian Laundrie couldn’t get any more bizarre and complex, one of the most well-known names in finding people who don’t want to be found has entered the conversation.
Duane Chapman, better known as reality TV’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” made headlines this week, claiming to have information on where Laundrie and his family’s activities during the search for Gabby Petito, Laundrie’s fiancé who was found dead near Grand Teton National Park as part of an exhaustive investigation.
According to Chapman, he has intel that Laundrie and his parents were staying at a campground roughly 65 miles away from where authorities have been searching for Laundrie in Carlton Reserve in Florida.
While Chapman didn’t divulge the source of his information, with a plea for additional tips on an interview with NewsNation, it appears he may be heavily relying on the help of others to narrow down Laundrie’s whereabouts.
Utah-based bail enforcement agent, an official and more professional term for a licensed bounty hunter, Aaron Kennedy, knows the game well. Having been in the bounty hunting game since 1995, Kennedy states he has successfully captured thousands, even tens of thousands of fugitives, in his career.
Keeping an ear to the streets and maintaining a network of carefully built relationships has been a key to Kennedy’s successful operation, as well as avoiding danger.
“The best forms of information are from the street,” Kennedy explains to ABC4.com. “I mean no computer, no surveillance technology or anything like that can compare to actual, real intel from the streets.”
While Kennedy’s methods can draw some similarities to the practices that Chapman has used in his reality show, the Beehive State fugitive finder isn’t fond of comparisons drawn between him and the sunglasses-wearing, long, blonde hair-having television personality.
For one, he doesn’t care for the term, “bounty hunter.”
Also, Kennedy carries a firearm on the job and is a licensed operator in the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) Bureau of Criminal Identification, things that Chapman can’t hold due to a prior felony conviction.
Kennedy’s current weapon of choice to protect himself on the job: a Glock 9 millimeter.
“It’s absolutely 100% necessary,” he states empathically. “I mean there’s no way I could do the same job that the law enforcement and US marshals are doing every day without being able to defend and protect myself.”
Getting a bail enforcement license in Utah can be an incredibly time-intensive process. While the qualifications to apply are scant, all you need is to be a citizen or legal resident who is at least 21 and “of good moral character,” according to the DPS, arriving at Kennedy’s clearance level, where he can directly provide or advertise services to the public or hire employees takes years.
Those who are interested in starting out as a bail enforcement agent must begin at the apprentice level and gain at least 1,000 hours of experience working under the supervision of a higher-level agent. From there, it takes an additional 1,000 hours to advance from recovery agent to enforcement agent.
Kennedy says apprentices should expect to be unpaid until they complete their first 1,000 hours on the sometimes dangerous job.
“When I was an apprentice, I had three other jobs,” he says, explaining he found a passion for the industry while trying to gain experience between high school graduation and becoming eligible to enter the police academy. “I was doing this on the side and sometimes just going without sleep, just so I could get the hours in.”
Completing the necessary training can put one in an exclusive group. The DPS lists just 31 licensees, including Kennedy, as bail enforcement agents. Being in a group so small to cover an entire state’s worth of fugitives can make for an interesting dynamic. Kennedy says while there is some sense of comradery between the agents, there can be conflicts in the race to complete a bounty.
“There is a lot of rivalry, there’s a lot of competition,” Kennedy illustrates. “But if you’re a good agent, and you’re a decent, professional person, even with rivalry and competition, you still have respect and professionalism. It’s just those agents that refuse to be professional that cause problems.”
The work is grueling and occasionally perilous. Kennedy keeps meticulous notes on 10 to 20 active cases on his phone and other devices at all times. Sometimes, he has to enter a house or other residence, uninvited and at the risk of physical harm.
Things could go terribly wrong in such a case, he says.
“The possibilities are there, but if you’re doing your job correctly and you’re doing things, you know, in a legit manner, being professional, not being overly aggressive, and trying to force a situation into something that shouldn’t have to go to, I’ve never really had an issue.”
While he says the payoff and nature of the business aren’t as good as they used to be, which he attributes to reforms in the bail system and a general lack of authority by the public, Kennedy still enjoys the chase, proudly boasting his recent captures on his website.
“I love what I do. I wouldn’t do anything else.”