We’ve come to know and love Stacey Dooley for her glitterball-winning stint on Strictly Come Dancing last year, but she’s a very long way away from those glamorous days when she returns to her film-making roots with her latest documentary, Stacey Dooley: Face to Face with the Bounty Hunters (from Wednesday July 31 on BBC3 Online).
Wearing a bulletproof vest, she shadows modern-day bounty hunter Scott Gribble, a hunter with 20 years experience who works for Hope Bail Bonds in Denver, Colorado. Scott’s wife Lydia also bounty hunts. But the experience puts Stacey in several risky situations as – armed with handguns and tasers – Scott and his team chase dangerous felons on the run.
Here Stacey Dooley reveals more about her dangerous bounty-hunting experience in America and what she learned about how they operate…
What’s On TV: What can you tell us about how American bounty hunters work?
Stacey Dooley: They’re unregulated operators, part of a $14 billion bail industry that loans people money to get out of jail. They do the work that in the UK falls to the police but, unlike the police, they’re paid by capture. The people they go after are the poorest and most vulnerable in society, who don’t have money to bail themselves out – in America justice and making money go hand in hand!
WOTV: So the system is a very different system to here in the UK then…
SD: “It is. In the UK we don’t put up money to get out of jail. But in America to make sure you show up for trial the court will ask for some money, a bond, otherwise you go to straight to prison. If you show up you’ll get this money back. If you don’t have the money a bondsman will lend it to you, but they’ll charge you 10 to 15 per cent. If you go on the run the bondsman won’t get his money back from the court, so he’ll go to bounty hunters and it’s their job to track you down.”
WOTV: What did you make of Scott, the bounty hunter you shadowed?
SD: “Scott captures 300 fugitives a year and the people I saw him arrest were repeat offenders with chaotic lives. He comes across as judgmental and rude but clearly there’s compassion there and he does care about these people he’s dealing with. All the team have a bullet proof vest, a taser and a handgun. There’s a shotgun in the car. If they came in my house I’d be absolutely petrified. It’s scary – if you don’t play by the rules you risk armed bounty hunters kicking down your door!”
WOTV: There’s one dangerous moment where you witness a fugitive getting tasered by one of Scott’s team. What was that like?
SD: “It was quite frightening because you don’t know what you’re walking into. What that day showed me is how these bounty hunters are forced to make these really important decisions in a split second. It felt chaotic and unpredictable and frightening. Their job is far from easy.”
WOTV: You also learned how bounty hunters don’t have to be trained and some take the law into their own hands to get results. How did that make you feel?
SD: “In 17 American states no training is required at all, although some states are getting rid of commercial bail and bounty hunters completely. I know you have to be held accountable for how you behave and nobody’s above the law, so there will always be consequences. But it isn’t straightforward, there are a lot of grey areas with bounty hunting that I needed to unpack and explore.”
* Stacey Dooley: Face to Face with Bounty Hunters is on BBC3 Online from Wednesday 31 July