Homeless People and Indigent
- L. Scott Harrell
- An excerpt from
Business of Finding and Taking Bond Forfeiture
Defendants into Custody"
- Locating defendants or
persons with information critical to a client’s case
is a routine assignment for investigators.
We have a myriad of resources available to us
that can assist in our efforts.
The proverbial “paper trail” we create as we
go through life, from a birth certificate all the way
through our eventual death certificate, many documents
punctuate our voyage along the way.
Additionally, we have a multitude of sources to
check when searching for almost any American: all of the
computer databases, voter registration indices, civil
and criminal court filings, the telephone book,
crisscross directories, Motor Vehicle Department
records, credit card records, Social Security data,
sometimes police reports, and the list goes on at
- What do you do, however,
when the subject of your search is not in the mainstream
of society? When
there are no telltale signs we normally find along the
paper trail? Is
it even possible? Does
it happen very often?
Yes, it can happen, and more often today than
- An expanding segment of
our population does not leave the usual clues, but a
record is nevertheless created.
These are the homeless Americans we have all read
and heard about more and more over the last few years.
There are now many thousands of these people in
this country, and if you haven’t already encountered
them in your work, the chances are quickly increasing
that you will.
- These people are on the
streets for many reasons; they are “on the run”,
they lost their jobs or homes, have no appreciable job
skills or the ability to find work.
They may be mentally impaired, physically ill, or
may be alcohol and drug abusers, but whatever the
reason, chances are you will deal with them in a future
investigation, especially as it relates to the criminal
- Because of their
vulnerability and sometimes their own acts, street
people are turning up in increasing numbers as the
victims, witnesses and perpetrators in criminal
the last few years, my company has been called on to
help locate a number of these defendants.
In one case, the victim, the assailants and the
witnesses (who all knew and traveled with each other)
were transients living under a bridge a few blocks from
downtown Austin, Texas.
- How do you go about
locating these people?
Some street people may not want to be located
while others aren’t intentionally avoiding discovery
but will still be hard to locate because of the lack of
the usual leads,
- Do not make the gaffe of
thinking that because homeless people have no visible
means of support that they are restricted from moving
long distances in a relatively short period of time. I
have found street people in Central Texas who have come
from Michigan, California, Mexico, New York, and points
travel to more moderate climates, to places where they
have heard it was easier to get handouts or avoid
prosecution, sometimes just on a whim; they do wander
and sometimes to far off places.
In the case mentioned earlier, we found that upon
hearing that we had apprehended his co-defendant, a bail
fugitive had traveled from Austin to Dallas; a distance
of almost 195 miles in only a few hours.
- To start your
investigation, you need some lead or basis to believe
that your subject is in a certain area.
That information may be developed from the
subject’s old friends, relatives, associates,
ex-employers, or your client (if acquainted with or
related to the subject).
The subject may have written or called someone
and given an indication of location or destination.
- Always check the jails in
adjoining or nearby counties!
Next, check with the local police department.
In Austin we can get incident reports that list
dates, times, locations and the primary participants.
If you do turn up a record of police contact with
your subject, it is probably outdated unless the subject
is in another jail or in a hospital. However, as limited
as they may be, the records can confirm that your
subject was in the
area on a certain date and time.
They may also pinpoint the area where your
subject hangs out regularly.
- Hospitals and morgues are
the two other institutions that commonly have contact
with the transient population and are about the only
ones that come from the routine checklist you may
- Your next step is to
develop two lists; the first is of shelter agencies that
cater to transients; the second is a list of places that
these people typically congregate.
These two lists will probably have common
characteristics, but there will be separate, distinct
locations on each.
Various places you
might find on the first list are:
- • Salvation Army
- • Churches and
church-sponsored locations, including "soup
- • Privately funded
- • YMCAs, YWCAs, etc.
- In many places, street
people have formed coalitions or associations to help
deal with their problems.
Any of these organizations may he able to help
you locate your subject or give you other leads.
On your list of locations frequented by
transients you will find:
- • Bus or train stations
- • Plasma centers that
purchase blood from donors (and other income sources)
- • Day-worker pickup
locations where they can obtain labor jobs lot a short
- • Common street
locations where transients frequent:
In the vicinity of the shelter agencies like the
Parks, bridges, highway overpasses, etc (protection from
- In Austin there is an area
called “The Drag”, a portion of a major street that
runs along the west side of the University of Texas
are several places here where transients gather to
exchange information about shelter locations and where
to get free handouts.
They panhandle passers-by, share food or drink,
and if they can afford it, drugs.
In this particular location, they also pass out
or just fall asleep on the sidewalk.
- Once you have compiled
your lists of places to look and checked with the jails,
police, and hospitals then you are almost ready for the
- Hopefully you have
obtained some or all of the following:
- • Subject’s full name,
- • Age and/or date of
- • A photograph, as
recent as possible, and physical description
- • Medical data
(illnesses or deformities)
Mental health information
- In some eases, as a next
step, you may want to prepare a “Missing” or a
“Reward” poster, whichever is appropriate for where
you intend on putting them.
These are useful for leaving with businesses or
individuals, posting in shelter agencies and areas where
other homeless people may frequent; give them to people
you interview along your way.
The posters may generate additional leads on your
subject’s whereabouts, particularly if there is a
reward offered for information.
The posters should include a picture of the
subject, name, description, maybe a reason why you are
looking for the subject and how to contact you if
someone has information. If a reward is offered for
information it should say so on the poster.
If you use a “Missing” poster ensure you
create a believable pretext why the defendant needs to
- Aside from a little
research and possibly some telephone work, you are going
to wear out some shoe leather and be dealing directly
with people when you work a case involving these people.
If you are one of those investigators who can’t
stand computers and you like to do your investigations
the old-fashioned way, you are going to love this type
- In making your way around
the various shelter organizations, you nay run into
problems getting information from some of them.
A number of the facilities keep records of the
people who pass through them; for example, the Salvation
Army shelter in Austin keeps an index card on every
individual who spends the night.
The card shows a name, the date the subject
stayed and has a short questionnaire for the subject
to fill out about any health or mental problems.
But many facilities have policies or legal
restrictions preventing them from divulging much, if
any, useful information.
In those cases it is often helpful to have a copy
of the defendant’s warrant with you.
Most facility operators don’t want the trouble
that often comes on the heels of a fugitive
investigation and not cooperating.
- If you are going to use a
pretext method, I recommend leaving a message for the
subject to pick up (if appropriate to the case). Many
facilities will take such a message for the subject and
post it for their clients to receive if they come in to
sure to leave a “Missing” poster and your business
card with the supervisor and the desk clerk.
We have had several cases where, after we had
made contact with the facility management, we received
anonymous tips that our subject was at a specific
location, most often at one or two o’clock in the
- Finally, you have to go to
the various locations visited by other homeless people,
talk to the people and check for leads or information.
Talking lo these people is not always easy.
They are often uninterested, evasive, drunk, or
trying to manipulate the investigator into giving them a
it will take all of your interviewing skills and some
patience to get information you can use.
- Remember the following
steps as you go about your
- • Obtain a description
of your subject and define a starting location for your
- • Check jail logs and
other local records
- • Develop lists of
shelter agencies and locations frequented by
- • Make a “Missing”
or “Wanted” poster in appropriate cases.
- • Contact shelter
- • Check the areas
frequented by transients.
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