Marvine Coley, like all business owners, gets the following question a lot: So, how’s business going?
Because she owns a bail bonding company, Coley has to answer it delicately.
“Awesome, people are committing crimes left and right!” sounds kind of insensitive.
“You really don’t know how to answer that question,” Coley, who owns Action Bail Bonding Company in Covington, said with a laugh.
For better or worse, business is not great right now for Coley and others in her industry.
Over a typical seven-day period, 50 to 60 people are arrested and booked into the Tipton County Jail. From May 1 to 11, just 35 people were arrested in Tipton County.
The numbers fluctuate week to week, but about half as many people are being arrested since COVID-19 hit and people began sheltering in place.
“How do you say, ‘Wow, this is terrible, people aren’t getting arrested?’” Coley said. “There’s no way to put that into words. I hate that people get arrested, but they do and they need us when they do.”
Hunter Dawson, who owns Advanced Bail Bonding, which is located next door to Action Bail Bonding on Mueller Brass Road, said his business has not been drastically affected, but did acknowledge it has taken a hit.
“It’s definitely slowed down in Covington due to the virus because you’re not seeing a lot of people arrested, but we’re not closing or anything,” Dawson said.
Coley has been forced to lay off both of her employees and said bail bonding companies are not eligible for assistance like most other businesses.
“When you go from writing seven to 10 bonds a week to one a week, yeah, it makes a big difference,” Coley said. “It has hurt the bail bonding industry, definitely.”
Though it’s indisputable less people are being arrested here, Billy Daugherty, chief deputy at the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, wants to make one thing clear: Law enforcement is not going easy on criminals.
“There are a number of factors leading to the number of arrests being down,” he said. “Some of that is people are fearful of COVID-19, they’re staying home and they’re not out breaking the law, but you’re always gong to have those who are going to try and capitalize on things like this and commit crimes. We’re not going to turn a blind eye to crime. Never have, never will. We’re going to uphold the rule of law. We have a duty to protect the public and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to do that with common sense. It’s not going to be a free-for-all for crime where criminals take over.”
Charges against the 35 people arrested May 1-11 included DUI, trespassing, domestic assault, drug possession, aggravated assault, illegal weapon possession, disorderly conduct, theft and public intoxication.
“Obviously, we’re using discretion,” Daugherty said. “When there are situations where crimes have been committed that citations in lieu of arrests work just as effectively, then that’s certainly fine, but we did that before the crisis.”
Even before the pandemic began to escalate, Sheriff Pancho Chumley met with his staff and law enforcement partners to come up with a way to enforce the law in a new world. Inmates are screened when they are arrested and the jail is equipped with negative pressure cells and areas to protect everybody.
“Just as we have a duty to protect the citizens, we have a duty to protect the inmates,” Daugherty said.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic slows down, law enforcement and bail bonding companies will continue operating under these unprecedented circumstances.
Coley and Dawson both said they are open for business, though it’s slow at the moment.
Criminals, unfortunately, are open for business as well. We reached out to several criminals for comment, but none would confirm or deny this (Okay, we made that last part up.).
“We’re out there just like we were before this crisis hit,” Daugherty said. “We’ve locked people up since this crisis hit and we will continue to do so if they violate the law.”