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ExpertBail Agent, Shawn Thomas, Curbing Youth Violence

Monday, July 18, 2011

ExpertBail Agent Shawn Thomas

Read the recent article that was published about ExpertBail Agent, Shawn Thomas. It highlights what he is doing to reduce youth violence, such as sponsoring youth programs, volunteering his time and trying to improve the relationship between kids and police officers.

FRANKLIN (SOMERSET) — As a bounty hunter, Shawn Thomas makes his living off other people’s crimes. Yet, he said he would like to see the crime rate drop in this, his lifelong, hometown, especially in regard to youth violence.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Thomas, who is also a licensed bail bondsman, is sponsoring the township’s first-ever Junior Police Academy in the hopes of improving the relationship between kids and cops.

“If the kids don’t have a stigma that the police are the bad guys, they’ll realize that they’re there to serve and protect,” Thomas said. “It says that right on the car. It’s not somebody you should be afraid of.”

Acting Chief Lawrence Roberts added, “I want the kids and the parents in the township to see that the men and women of the Franklin Police Department really take a great interest in the success of our youth.”

Taking place July 18 to 22, the Junior Police Academy will allow 22 seventh to 10th graders experience what it’s like to train as a police cadet, said Sgt. Philip Rizzo, police spokesman. Rizzo said they will participate in:

  • Exercises, obstacle courses, and military-like drills;
  • Presentations and demonstrations of the state police K-9 division and medevac helicopter, and the township fire inspector on arson investigation;
  • Talks with detectives, street officers, a crime scene investigation team, emergency service technicians and members of the FBI;
  • Lessons on police basics, including public relations with Rizzo and Courier News Staff Writer Joshua Burd.

Lawrence and Rizzo commended the job Detective Kevin Fitzharris, a 15-year veteran of the force, and Detective Patrick Lilvois, a 12-year veteran, did in organizing the inaugural event. Both are with the department’s juvenile bureau.

“Every aspect of what a police officer learns in 21 weeks, these guys touch upon in a week,” Rizzo said.

“It’s great because it gives the kids involved in the program a chance not only to interact with officers and see another side of them but also to give the kids a hands-on perspective of what officers go through every day in their job,” Lawrence added. “For the kids, it will be interesting to see. A lot of time, they just see an officer drive by in a car. Now they’ll have a chance to see what kind of physical training they go through, what traffic enforcement is like, what a crime scene investigation is like. It’s a multifaceted job, not just driving around in a car, answering calls. There’s a lot more to being a police officer.”

Thirty-five youth submitted an application and essay to the Junior Police Academy, Rizzo said. After a background check, 22 were accepted, he said.

The application process modeled that of an actual police prospect, Rizzo said.

Better relations
Bad parenting, questionable video games and negative stereotypes portrayed by rappers fuel the violent youth culture that plagues many of the nation’s communities, including Franklin, Thomas said.

Junior Police Academy can help bridge the gap, he said, even though many within the community are angry with the local police department because of perceived harsh treatment when violence erupted at a high school dance last year.

“Everybody can’t be mad at everybody,” Thomas said. “We have to coexist.
“If my son comes in the house with a red shirt and rag hanging out of his pocket,” he continued, “he’s never going to leave the house like that again. If everybody took the initiative, we wouldn’t have the problems that we have. It’s gotten to the point where the adults in this community are scared of the teenagers. It’s not like you have to challenge them. Some of these kids, all they need is a hug.”

Lawrence said the Junior Police Academy has been in the works two years — a year before the incident at the high school dance — and is not a reaction to it.

The township’s Youth Initiative tried to launch the Police Academy last year, Thomas said, but a lack of funds stalled the project. This year, police officers are volunteering their time, Lawrence said.

“As chief, I’m very proud of the men and women from the police department who volunteering their time to work with the youth,” Lawrence said.

Dedicated volunteer
An admitted “knucklehead” as a youth, Thomas may have been Least Likely to Become a Bounty Hunter for the Franklin Township High School Class of 1985 if it had that superlative.

Thomas honored the memory of his late older brother, Barry, who died at 32 of colon cancer, by naming his business after him and donating a portion of it profits to combat the disease.

“I never knew in a million years that people would be calling me saying, ‘Who are you?! Put Barry on the phone! I was talking to him earlier,” Thomas said.

“You were talkin’ to Barry?” he continued. “Not in this world you weren’t.”

An office stint with the Woodbridge-based law firm Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, led Thomas to a job with veteran Franklin bail bondsman James MacPherson. Four years later, Thomas opened his own business, when MacPherson his to Plainfield.

After 10 years, Thomas has enough active clients to fill 10 cabinets with their files. Yet, he said he remains selective.

“Whenever there is crime, my numbers might spike,” Thomas said. “There was a shooting at McDonald’s the other day. The police are going to turn the heat up on everybody for all those other little crimes, not just the shooting. There are going to be a lot of arrests, so it’s a lot of bail bonds. But everybody doesn’t go to court. I write good bails.

“What will kill you in this business is your own greed,” he continued. “You can have a truck driver riding through the State of New Jersey who gets caught with a haul of marijuana. He could have a million-dollar bail. A guy will walk in with a suitcase filled with $100,000 and say, ‘Get him out right now.’ Why? It’ll never go to court. He’s not from New Jersey. He has no ties to New Jersey. If you are short-sighted and say, ‘Here’s a $100,000 now,’ then you’re going to owe $1 million, and the state is going want its money. There is no two ways about it. You can’t be greedy.”

Rather than be greedy with his business, Thomas is generous with his time.

For the sake of loved ones in Franklin — a wife, three children ages 13 to 27, his mother, his mother-in-law and others — Thomas’ concern about youth violence led him to volunteer with the township’s Youth Initiative. He serves on the Safety and Education Committee and also volunteers three nights a week with the recreation program.

He said he would rather play basketball with youth than provide them a bail bond later in life.

“I’ve had to help so many families get through shootings or burying their kids,” Thomas said. “It took a turn for the worst out here. So I said let me get a little more involved in the community.”

Run but can't hide
One of only 20 bounty hunters licensed by the state, Thomas’ reach extends much wider as a member of the ExpertBail Network, a collective of the nation’s top bail bond agents. Via the network, his clientele can come from throughout the country.
Right about the time he opened shop, the state licensed the field in order to keep it reputable, Thomas said.

“People were hiring ex-cons and people who weren’t really credible,” he said. “Your credit has to be immaculate; your character has to be immaculate because if I’m in the hole, if I owe Visa $88,000 and drug dealer jumps bail for $100,000 bail, and I go to lock him up, and there’s a box of money sitting there, if I’m not of a certain caliber or character, I might say, ‘Hey, go on. I didn’t see anything.’ ”

Having survived many dangerous situations, Thomas said only about 6 percent of clients has jumped bail. Over the years, he said, only about a third of a percent couldn’t be retrieved. This year, he said, he has a 100 percent retrieval rate.

While the media image of a bounty hunter is more like a bar bouncer, a biker or professional wrestler, Thomas said the job is more about brains than brawn.

“Ninety percent of the time, the people just missed the court date and didn’t realize it,” he said. “If you have close enough ties in the community and people respect what you are, once you go to the family, they know where you’re at.”

Thomas said that his greatest chase involved a woman free on $150,000 bail who fled to Portugal. He said he also has had to track bail jumpers down to New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Los Angeles.

He said he returned them all to court within the 75-day time limit before he had to forfeit their bonds.

“The biggest thing in this business is once something comes in bad, don’t panic,” Thomas said. “You just have to remain calm and work the case.”

With ExpertBail Network bringing him business throughout the country, Thomas said he would be happy to see the Junior Police Academy reduce the number of his Franklin clientele.

Locally, he said, he would rather impact his community than his bottom line.

“If they’re shooting up the McDonald’s, my daughter could get shot,” he said. “I don’t benefit from crime like that.”

Original Article:
Franklin bounty hunter: Curbing youth violence

Photo credit: Shawn Thomas of Barry's Bail Bonds at his Somerset office. / A.F. MENEZES/MyCentralJersey