WESLEY HILLS, New York—The ceiling came crashing down on the three men on the staircase. The police detective, who went first, fell into the nearby bathroom, hit his head on the iron bathtub, and was knocked unconscious. The fugitive landed on his feet in front of the two police detectives and bounty hunter, Scott Bernstein, who were standing in the narrow hall.

“The detective who’s on my right engaged him, and [the fugitive] threw him like a rag doll off to his right,” Bernstein said.

“I’m ready to go, but all of the sudden the other detective jumps on him,” he said. The man backhanded the detective, who fell down the staircase behind them, breaking his leg.

They stood face to face. Bernstein grabbed him, and the two fought. They landed in the bedroom at the other end of the hall. Bernstein tried to arrest the man. The man grabbed his wrists. “I could hear the crunching of my bones,” Bernstein said.

“So all of the sudden he starts grabbing my arm and he starts biting on it—really hard. I can show you the teeth marks,” Bernstein said. He pointed to a series of white scars near his wrist. “These are all teeth marks.”

As the two continued fighting, one of the injured officers called in backup. The S.W.A.T. team showed up, and pulled the man off Bernstein. “This guy was like Superman strength. It look five officers to help me finally restrain him,” he said.

For Bernstein, this was just another day on the job. As one of the world’s top bounty hunters, he has captured more than 6,300 fugitives. He is the founder of the Bounty Hunter Training Academy, the only nationwide elite tactical training center in the world.

He is also the founder and director of Child Recovery International (CRI), the only international child recovery agency, which has the world’s highest recovery rates. They have recovered more than 680 children and 1,500 adults—from runaways to those taken by kidnappers and human traffickers.

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Bernstein sits back in a chair in his home office just outside New York City in Wesley Hills. Mug shots of recently captured criminals cover his wall of shame.

He has a kind smile, and is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet, but he’s a man of true grit. On a brief tangent, he casually points to a sewn patch on his wrist. “Recently I got stabbed there,” he says. “I stitched it up myself.”

He said his wife asked if he needed an anesthetic. “I said, yeah, pour me a glass of tequila.”

“So anyhow, so the guys were great,” he says, returning to his story.

Helping those in need

Bernstein is currently recruiting troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. As someone who has suffered more than 30 years from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he knows coming home can be one of the hardest things for a soldier.

Bounty hunter Scott Bernstein, founder of the Bounty Hunter Training Academy just outside New York City, stands in front of his “wall of shame,” a collage of mug shots of his recently captured fugitives. (Joshua Philipp/The Epoch Times)

“The reason why you see servicemen constantly signing up for second and third deployment is because they know the horrors of war, and they seem to feel that when they come back home they don’t fit back into society,” he says.

Bernstein hopes to give them a soft landing.

“They can’t find a normal job, nor are they apt to do a normal job,” he says. “You can’t just turn the switch on and off.”

For Bernstein, doing this is saving lives. He said his work gives them a transition, and with this, “we’re trying to stop the mass amount of suicides among our soldiers.”

He says by helping returning troops, he is putting their hard-won skills to use. “It’s a revolving door. In return, they save lives. They continue to do what they do best,” Bernstein says.

Collecting a bounty

“I can tell a bounty hunter’s experience by looking at the eyes. If you sit across from me I can see the sadness, the hardness,” Bernstein says.

Bounty hunting has a long history. A condition allowing the release of accused criminals for the right price was written into the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Yet the Wild West made this a problem.

“Early on, ‘bail jumpers’ began using the American frontier as a means to escape the law, a possibility that generally did not exist in England,” which had the Habeas Corpus Act of 1678—a basis of the American bail system, according to a report from the California State Library, California Research Bureau.

U.S. courts established a bail system allowing defendants to pay for their release ahead of trial, and if they didn’t show up, they would forfeit what they paid. Since many couldn’t afford the full bail, bail bonds were established.

The bail bonds person had the power to recapture a defendant who skipped town, but the frontier made it easy for them to stay on the run. “To combat this possibility, bail bonds persons began to rely on the bounty hunters to track down defendants who skipped bail,” states the report. “Bounty hunters were regarded by the courts as agents of the bonds person and therefore, had the same legal authority to recapture the defendant.”

This work has become more colorful in modern times.

Bernstein pulls out a box with a Santa costume. “We dress up as different people: floral companies, UPS, Con Eds. I can do Bozo the clown, [and the]Easter bunny. … I’m Santa too during Christmas time, wouldn’t you let Santa in your house?

Although Bernstein keeps a light heart, the work isn’t easy. “The untrained people are the ones who get hurt, maimed, or killed,” he says. This is why his academy makes training and teamwork their first priorities.

The pay is good—up to $250,000 a year for those who are dedicated—but for some, it’s about more than just a nice paycheck.

“You’re hunting fugitives for profit … who are out there committing more atrocities and killing lives. We’re there, as a cure, to make sure they don’t do it again,” Bernstein says.

“It can be a scary, dangerous job because you never know what’s on the other side of the door when you go hit it,” he says. “You have to expect the unexpected. You have to be on your toes 24/7.”