The Hegemony is a global government governing Earth and her colonies. As a global government the Hegemony has a rather large police force (the Hegemony has merged the military and police within the bureaucracy) numbering in the hundreds of millions.

The Hegemony also maintains/condones a large bounty hunting network across Earth and the colonies. To be a bounty hunter all one has to do is pass a simple background check and get issued a permit by the state. The permit gives the hunter in question the legal right to arrest their target (since their target would already be marked a fugitive).

But why? Are there any practical reasons to have a large bounty hunting system when you already have a large police force?

Note: for the most part peace keepers (Hegemony police) are a benevolent force that plays it by the books.

Permit allows hunters to also pick up missing person's cases if that is a factor in any answers.

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    $\begingroup$ If the government is genre savvy, they'll know that bounty hunters are way awesomer than police. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez in fact, they'd know ex-police make excellent bounty hunters. So more police force = more ex-police. And of course there is an increased chance they get the rare loner cop who works better by himself and doesn't pay much attention to the law. These guys are really effective, especially when paired with a respectable by-the-book police officer of which there would also be a lot. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ Just a side note, military and police usually have completely different goals. Joining them in a single force sounds very fishy and probably counterproductive. There are examples from Earth's history, but as soon as there is enough "peace" to go around, the law enforcement is generally separated from armed forces. $\endgroup$
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ "Practical reasons to have both a large police force and bounty hunting network?" - for the same reasons as current day USA? $\endgroup$
    – Mawg
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ The Syfy series Killjoys explores this. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 16:22

23 Answers 23


Bounty hunters only get paid on results. If they don't succeed, they make nothing and cost the government nothing as where police get paid on success or failure.

Basically bounty hunters are police that work for commission.

The government have enough police to handle most of the routine work but if it starts to get time consuming, they sub it out to bounty hunters. This way they can maximise the return for their money.

An additional bonus is the government has plausible deniability if a bounty hunter uses "questionable" methods to get results. No need for police to beat suspects with phone books and trample suspect's rights (when a bounty hunter will do it for you)

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    $\begingroup$ +1: All for the money... Outsourcing risky jobs that aren't regularly scheduled routines. Especialy in a high bureaucracy where all that matters are the numbers, presented to the higher ups. $\endgroup$
    – T-Me
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @nalzok It is in some places. And some bounty hunters have gotten into trouble for it when they get a little too rough. There was even a reality show about one in the US a while back... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ This is good, but also mention that police and sherriff's deputies have to stay within their jurisdiction but bounty hunters don't. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ If the bounty hunters are not held accountable for "regrettable excesses", they will quickly become essentially mercenary death squads. It's whole lot easier to just kill someone than it is to arrest him. And if the government does not provide effective protection for the bounty hunters, they in turn will become targets. The result will be a lot of civilians killed in the crossfire. This in turn is going to really impact how the government is perceived by the population. Plus, of course, the police will misbehave and blame it on bounty hunters. This trend will not end well. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast: There are compromises here. E.g. bounty hunters are not allowed to kill a target, but aren't blamed for the fugitive getting hurt. This opens the door to some forms of torture (with no obvious wound patterns), the bounty hunter can claim that it happened while resisting arrest, and the government can choose to not particularly punish this behavior (under the guise of "he shouldn't have resisted arrest!") if they can benefit from asking bounty hunters by skirting (but not provably transgressing) the fugitive's rights. It can lead to death squads but it doesn't have to. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 9:10

Unregulated Space(s)

Your police force has a heavy presence on-planet, or in dense population centres, but not outside of that - the void between colonies or the wilds of the sparser planets do not have the same infrastructure or law enforcement.

This makes those same locations the perfect hiding place for criminals and outlaws. Bounty Hunters are able to operate in those areas without the Support Network that the Police rely on.

These "buffer zones" also keep the different Departments of your Police Force from coming into conflict with each other - it is always clear which jurisdiction you are in.

Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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    $\begingroup$ A citation from H2G2 on how big space is would readily explain why maintaining a heavy police presence in space is impractical. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 9:39

Note: for the most part peace keepers (Hegemony police) are a benevolent force that plays it by the books.

You actually answered your own question. The setup you're describing would actually be a potential solution to a LOT of the problems that exist in our own society right now.

Basically you're talking about privatizing SWAT, as well as the more offensive arms of the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF.

It's hard to maintain a benevolent police force when one of their responsibilities is trying to control dedicated criminals with no compunctions about using violence. Inevitably the demands of the latter cause your police to become cynical, ruthless, and even corrupt.

Your solution leaves a large, well funded police force handling all the normal 'Protect and Serve' functions and PROTECTS those police from having to deal with heavily armed criminals and gangs. This keeps them benevolent and removes the pressures they might otherwise face to throw out the book in the pursuit of results, or even their own safety. They play it straight, they do the investigation and identify the threats, and put bounties up on them.

Then your heavily armed, licensed bounty hunters go out and THEY get to risk their lives trying to handle the tough criminals. Most importantly, your bounty hunters wouldn't be protected by any laws regarding use of force in the service of duty, which means that if innocent or unarmed civilians are getting shot, it's not a government employee that did it, and it's MUCH easier to throw that contracted bounty hunter to the wolves and let him rot.

Honestly it's a pretty good idea. I might steal it.

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    $\begingroup$ huh I accidentally came up with a good solution. I'd assume if the Hegemony did have swat they'd be comparable to special forces. Maybe they'd retain some offensive cops. Go for it btw (using the idea) I use this sight for inspiration so I'm happy to know I'm having a similar effect $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor The police might still maintain heavily armed special forces for one specific purpose only: Taking down rogue bounty hunters :) $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp Why even bother? Set a bounty on the rogue bounty hunter, and in specifically those cases tack on "all the properties and possessions of [rogue bounty hunter]" to the bounty. Extra incentive to the rogue to turn himself in (so his family can keep his stuff and not starve), and extra incentive for other bounty hunters; if the rogue is a real threat, it's probably because he has good gear - legally being able to take that as your own is a significant bonus (and if the rogue's not a threat, then the extra incentive isn't really necessary). And no extra funding needed. $\endgroup$
    – Delioth
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Delioth The bounty hunters might have a sense of honor and camaraderie which means they won't turn on each other. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp Contracted workers don't typically form those kinds of bonds - since they're all constantly in direct competition (unless they work in teams, but even then teams likely won't form bonds with other teams, because a sense of honor to another team doesn't put food in their bellies or bullets in their guns). Additionally, you don't need a whole host of hunters to turn on each other. You just need one. Piling up extra incentives (without additional costs to the Hegemony) can make it easier to convince one. $\endgroup$
    – Delioth
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 17:44

Another possible concept would be that police and bounty hunters are pursuing different kinds of fugitives, e.g. police searches for persons who are not yet convicted, while bounty hunters search for those who have been sentenced by the courts to prison or death penalty.
Since the police 'does not kill', the bounty hunters execute the death penalties as soon as they catch the convicted. And since these criminals should already be punished, excessive force is authorized, but frowned upon within the police.

  • $\begingroup$ There may as well be a class of fugitives that legally can't be pursued by police for some reasons, e. g.: citizens of another state which has an agreement with Hegemony for a special status of its citizens; or maybe androids owned by some mighty corporation, which can't have a separate police force but can issue bounty hunter licenses; or something else like that. $\endgroup$
    – ain92
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 16:24

High bureaucracy.

Police can be numerous, but they are bound by countless rules and regulations. Particularly, when a fugitive runs away across district lines, it takes a long time to get other district's force to act on the case. Also, ex-territorial forces (similar to FBI or US Marshals that normally handle this kind of job) are very limited because Hegemony is afraid to make an all-powerful law enforcement agency.

As a result, hunting of fugitives is outsourced to private contractors, who are not limited by district boundaries and not organized to present a threat to the Hegemony.



When $$ are involved, bounty hunters are a thing.

We currently have a large police force right here in the good 'ol USA. And yet--we still have bounty hunters. If you ask why that's true in real life, you'll have your answer.

Here's how it works here:

Yes, bounty hunting is legal, although state laws vary with regard to the rights of bounty hunters. In general, they have greater authority to arrest than even the local police. "When the defendant signs the bail bond contract, they do something very important. They waive their constitutional rights," says Burton. "They agree that they can be arrested by the bail bond agent. And they waive extradition, allowing bondsmen to take them to any state."

All the bounty hunter needs to make an arrest is a copy of the "bail piece" (the paperwork indicating that the person is a fugitive) and, in some states, a certified copy of the bond. He or she doesn't need a warrant, can enter private property unannounced and doesn't have to read a fugitive his or her Miranda rights before making the arrest. But there are rules and regulations to the job. The bail bond contract gives bounty hunters the right to enter the home of a fugitive, but only after establishing without a doubt that the person lives there. They cannot enter the homes of friends or family members to look for the fugitive.

In real life, bounty hunters go after people who have jumped bail (basically, that means that you haven't shown up to court after the court released you. When you, the criminal, sign the bail bond contract, you waive normal rights and give bounty hunters the ability to track you down in ways not normally available to police.

You might be advocating for a different system, something along the lines of a rewards system, such as what the FBI does with their MOST WANTED. That's completely different and has nothing to do with bounty hunters.

In that case, what you would need is lots of $$ being poured into the system, a government that wants order and is willing to pay for it.

To have a lot of either system (Rewards or Bail Bondsmen Bounties) you need a lot of arrests, and motivation to jump bail or run. Motivation can come in the form of unjust punishment or a corrupt system.

I have to say that in real life, bail bondsmen don't want high flight risk clients. They would rather you didn't run, but they will chase you so that they can get their $$ back (at least some of it). And they don't go after any fugitives, they go after the ones that their company put money up for...

Current rate in the US is something like $50,000-80,000 a year. A decent paycheck, but not enough of a trade-off for it to be worth the risk to most people. You want to make it much, much more profitable or have a more desperate/poor population to make it worthwhile.

The difference between the police and bounty hunters in fiction should be risk vs. reward. In real life, police have a risky job, but actual bounty hunters are actively going after desperate fugitives who have fled. Police sort of take things as they come. Police arrest, bounty hunters apprehend AFTER arrest. In a fictional world cops should be saying something like "Pfft, I'm not going in there--let a bounty hunter take it." Cops should get less $$ but take lower risks, and bounty hunters are less bound by law than they are. That's why in real life there's a sort of love hate relationship between bounty hunters and the cops...

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    $\begingroup$ Contrary to what you see on TV, a Police Officer making an arrest does not need to recite the Miranda Rights to the Suspect either: a Miranda Warning is only required when a Suspect in Custody is going to be Interrogated. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's standard to give Miranda once the suspect is in custody because if they are asking any questions about the crime at all, they need to be read. Bounty hunters don't ask questions. They don't care. It's apparent that the suspect jumped bail, and it's not their job to ask any questions. Bounty hunters are simply arresting AFTER a suspect has been officially arrested and the suspect has jumped bail. Interrogation is considered ANY question about the crime. So it's often safer to read them for a police officer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 14:50

Rich and poor

Police is not here to protect every person from violence, it is here to enforce law. (Already ruled and practiced in our world.) In the future there is big difference between those rich and those poor.

There are hight-tech citites (or enclaves), where the rich lives, protected by police and without the need to violently resist (as they could lose their status). The police is benevolent, as usual crimes are white collar crimes (tax evasion and such - solved by penalties) and ocassional interpersonal violence in affect (cheated husband would broke nose his wife and her amant when catch them in flagranti - and then give himself to police without fight - and get away with huge sum to fix cosmetical damage and emocional hurting, maybe even few weeks or month in nice prison - nothing to risk life for). And the police is benevolent, as there is no serious resitance and we are talking rich peoples. In city is total surveliance, cameras everywhere, credit cards with names on them only accepted and so on - nearly impossible to run away from police for more than few hours anyway in bounds of such city.

The cities have good guarded borders and crossing the borders (both ways) is generally frowed upon and is matter of checks like taking intercontinetal airplane today.

Outside are "slums" with poor people, left to themself. No state cameras would stand long there, risky for police to go there without big group and military equipement. Law there is more encorced by customs. Cash is used regularry, IDs are not mandatory to live there and violence is part of the life (also vendetta, low mob mafia, and such).

Well some people are very rich there too, as well as in the city are not-so rich people (gardeners, maids, basically all services) - but those in cities are controlled and wants to keep their good status, those in slums wants to keep their independence and privacy (or are forced to). (basically average person in "slums" can own more, than the lower class in city, except the safe environment and guaranteed good life, including medical care)

There is possible migration both ways, but it is difficult to change status:

poor to rich means give all your privacy, be penalized on all proven crimes and be subject of long time suppresion of police as unttusted person - also you need somebody rich to promise overlook over you (and pay all eventual fines for you) and you would go to the bottom positions anyway and basically be slave for years before having chance to get better position, while your patron can send you back to slums on his/her whim (so you would lose everything in both words)

rich to poor - well, if you think you can survive in jungle, where nobody helps you and everybody hates you, without all those nice thinks you had in city guarantied - you need to be really desperate to go this way - and the city would not like to accept you back. Also all your relatives would lose a lot of credibility aand status for your action, even if they disown you - do not count on some support.

Anyway the cities needs the slums for taking care about agriculture, mining, low tech (which does polution), artworks and such, while slums need cities for high technology, medicines, movies, etc. so there are big trade routes both ways.

And those bounty hunters operates outside the cities, both for locals and citizens, who had problems outside city walls. Maybe even some bounty hunters have homes in cities and high technology (private SWAT), but the main body lives in slums and knows the back streets, gangs and all others, who operate there.

Bounty hunters are not allowed to operate in cities (the police can manage it there good enought), but police cannot operate in slums (as nobody cooperate there and small units would be attacked for equip and ransom, while big units have no chance infiltrate anything), where bounty hunters can move freely as locals. There is tell-telling difference between citizenc and locals not only in body modifications and equipement, but mainly in behavior, street knowledge, language ... they both just stand out on the other side of border.

Referencies: District 9, Battle Angel Alita, Demolition man, Ghost in the Shell, Black Lagoon, ... (or with some exgregation rich countries (as "cities") vs poor countries (as "slums") today)

Edit: It is just on you, what "poor" means in that setting - if common food is soya-ratburgers as real meat (even from vermints) is too expensive, or if it means, that some of them have "just" 2D TV without tactile feedback, only a two or three pieces of cyberware enhancements and have to travel by ground vehicles ... poor and rich is just relative to each other.


1: "He Bought The Farm" As far back as the Roman empire and probably beyond, it was recognised that the greatest danger a regime - if not a civilization - can face, is a large number of idle hands belonging to people who have some training in tactics and weaponry and combat experience. It gets worse if they're angry for whatever reason at the current government. To 'combat' this governments began such programs as formalized medals, veteran support programs and REMF promotions, as this regards Bounty Hunters: With such a large military and police force come a lot of retired police officers and soldiers, finding ways to keep them busy is a reason to spend money, let alone if it provides corollary benefits.

Bounty Hunting offers a good professional translation because it can be done part-time(most wanted won't even leave their home neighborhood) and the individuals will already have training in at least a significant proportion of the requirements of the trade, giving them a 'leg up' over other applicants. It will also make them unpopular among the residents, which hinders their inclusion among the part of the community most likely to rebel.

2: Management

Bounty Hunting work should reasonably be irregular and almost more like a taxi office than a police force, irregularity makes for complex management and if there's anything governments can't cope with it's a nonlinear state. Bounty Hunting firms can 'afford' to be more flexible without endangering their jurisdiction.

3: Risk Mitigation

The people (proportional) most likely to present difficult arrest situations are those who know they're already screwed(skipping bail, etc) it makes sense then to give those difficult arrests to people who you don't mind getting hurt, or blamed for hurting others, as much as possible.

4: Collateral

If a police officer harms an innocent in the pursuit of their responsibilities, the police department, county, state or federal authority risks massive costs in legal fees and compensation. Outsourcing to private industry allows the onus of covering insurance to be put on taxpayers, rather than tax recipients.

5: Payment on Delivery vs Full Time Salaried

A Police Forces number one concern must be the integrity of it's own officers, even after actual enforcement of laws, otherwise it's a liability rather than an asset. Police Officers must not be at risk of going bankrupt despite performing their duties and must be disallowed from 'alternative interests,' being relatively poorer, they're relatively easier to bribe or influence with money even than politicians. Regular, dependable payment is essential. That's to say nothing of the requirement for stations and routes to always be staffed as expected and part-time contracts are just asking for flakes to flake.

6: Diversification

A Bounty Hunter can be free to take on non-government work, private security, investigations etc, whilst government contracts must be on average profitable, a diverse portfolio allows recruitment (and a 'Unity'(working for the State) psychological influence) of people who would normally run a mile at police work and subisidize against failure to secure bonds.

7: Arsenal

A Police Force (bearing in mind the earlier requirement for consistency) cannot (it's hard) easily maintain the capacity to deal with all conceivable eventualities, maintain stockpiles and training regimens with/of all relevant materiel and techniques. If they have a budget to balance more equipment means less beat officers or investigative staff. On the other hand, a private individual might be found at any time that has the required licenses, training and equipment to perform a task and the PD might wish it was legal to Deputize, instead they create a contract to a Bounty Hunting team to effectively do the same, getting the results without the overheads for scarce or one-off operations.

If you follow this to it's logical extreme you don't need an army - a police force, contractors and monopoly over space-borne weaponry will do. Even, one might argue an army on the scale of millions of personnel is surplus to requirements if one exists as the sole political entity in known space. No traditionally scaled(that is to say, a tiny fraction of the population actively involved, supported by a few rich folks aka Rev. War) rebellion opposed by the military could hope to succeed in developed nations in modern times(without external support), let alone in times when you can't even see the enemy you're wanting to oppose.

//Military Reserve

Whilst the Hegemony might feel secure in it's integrity, space is big(?) legalizing(promoting, institutionalizing) bounty hunting provides one more method of maintaining a certain core of military readiness that otherwise would not exist.

The Army and 'Navy' might well have biannual mandatory refreshers for reservists, but it's not going to be any substitutute for people who train & use the relevant skills on a daily basis. Depending on the nature of the bounty hunting profession in your world, bounty hunters may provide a tangible asset if it came to war. Those who concentrate on domestic non-violent enforcement could be contracted as 'peacekeepers' and police cadre in occupied territory, members of more militant organizations could be constituted as special operations units, or used as consultants for retraining and readiness by a military that has not seen a wartime action in decades.

Even, in such circumstances where the Army has not had anything much military to do for a long while, it would potentially be the case that a great deal of the more pro-active individuals who can't stomach jobs as placeholders or 'potentially useful' would take up bounty hunting and bounty hunting would attract the prestige historically linked with military units.


It gives people an incentive to turn themselves in

The police force is known for being generally pretty fair and reasonable. They're constrained by a number of laws. Also, they can afford to be, partially because they avoid the high-pressure stuff. Everyone knows that if you crank the threat up high enough, the police will just let you go. Wave a gun, and you can walk out of there. At the same time, the police are wearing body cameras at all times, and those update the Panopticon Surveillance State System in real-time. If you wave weaponry at a police officer, your name goes on a list, and the bounty hunters come after you.

The bounty hunters are not fair, and not reasonable, and do not wear body cameras, and they will seriously mess you up. There's likely to be a firefight or two, and anyone you care about in the immediate vicinity might wind up being collateral damage. They get a bonus if you're alive when they bring you in, but it's not that big of a bonus.

Thus, if you're innocent, or even mostly innocent, it's probably a good idea to turn yourself in. The punishment you'll get for whatever crime you committed won't be as bad as what the bounty hunters will do to you trying to "Bring you to justice". If you're guilty s hell, though... well, that's what Bounty Hunters are for.


Federal division of powers

Although the Hegemony is a single unified government, in practice it's far too large to be run as a unitary body. It must maintain different levels of bureaucracy, governing areas ranging from cities to what we would think of as countries. Potential competitors for each region's rulers and bureaucrats abound: other regions of similar size, smaller constituents, larger regions they are a part of. Since your police and military forces are controlled by the bureaucracy, they are part of that competition for power.

One natural result is that individual regions of various sizes have their own security forces, with very strict rules about where they are and are not welcome. A nation-like region might not even have the power to send police into individual provinces or cities, depending on whether or not it has a justification that won't make it look like a power play. Because they're effectively in competition, police forces at different levels and in different places aren't likely to have very good communication - this is something that perfectly friendly agencies and nations struggle with in the real world, after all. So criminals (or criminal syndicates) that can move between regions can stay ahead of the local police.

Enter bounty hunters. Unlike police/military forces that represent the encroaching power of a rival power bloc, individual bounty hunters are hardly a threat to the established order. If they cause problems, the host region can easily censure, expel, even kill them without much difficulty. They can take down lone criminals who flee between jurisdictions, and gather information about larger syndicates to feed to the local law. (They might even serve as an informal communications channel for police forces whose superiors are feuding but who must cooperate against a particular threat.)


Plausible Deniability

What the police do reflects directly on the government. Even a rogue cop who goes to court tarnishes the badge. A rogue cop who does not go to court means the rot is starting.

I hope you realize that giving the legal right to arrest a target means that the bounty hunters have the legal right to arrest anyone who looks like the target. And the right to harass anyone who looks like the target and demand to see papers to prove that they're not the target. Add that the bounty hunters are not trained police officers, and do not get access to police information systems. Either rules are harshly enforced on the bounty hunters, then the first honest mistake sends them to prison for kidnapping and assault. Or the system cuts them some slack if they say "he looked like the perp, honest." Such a force can be useful to people in power.

Note that many jurisdictions allow a citizens's arrest and many post rewards for information on crimes or criminals. But someone who makes a living by seeking out opportunities for a citizen's arrest would be in an awkward position if he or she gets it wrong.

Lobby Work by the Bond and Prison Industry

The US-style concept of bounty hunters is tied to the practice of bond/bail and the agents who loan this money. Few industrialized countries have similar systems -- a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, and held in jail only if there is fear of flight or evidence tampering. Posting a significant bond might reduce the fear of flight, but not if the defendant fears several years in prison.

So why keep it? Because the people involved in it make lots of money, and donate in the right places.

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    $\begingroup$ "I hope you realize that giving the legal right to arrest a target means that the bounty hunters have the legal right to arrest anyone who looks like the target." That's not actually true in the U.S. If a bounter hunter is trying to arrest someone that is not the target, they can get arrested and jailed, even if they honestly think they are the target. It is considered their legally binding responsibility to only arrest the target. That's not to say that mistakes do not happen, but those mistakes are not permitted under the law. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 6:42

Standing armies are dangerous to a polity.

A standing army in the hands of a government placed so independent of the people, may be made a fatal instrument to overturn the public liberties; it may be employed to enforce the collection of the most oppressive taxes, and to carry into execution the most arbitrary measures. An ambitious man who may have the army at his devotion, may step up into the throne, and seize upon absolute power.

The AntiFederalists on Standing Armies, Laurence Vance

Your police and your army are one entity. The writers of the Constitution dreaded having a standing army at all; now the US has one, but there are strict restrictions on its actions and especially its interaction with the populace. On those rare circumstances when armed troops are needed within the borders of the US it is the milita, or National Guard who is called - civilian soldiers, not the professionals.

Having the military interact with the public is dangerous. It is also dangerous to a civilian power structure because the army can simply seize power.

Your armed forces / police force are bound by many rules of interaction which are meant to reduce the danger they pose. Bounty hunters interact intimately with the populace in a way you do not want your military to do, but they are just one aspect of the workaround in this world. Just as in our world paramedics, fire fighters and animal control are bodies of public servants (and possibly volunteer part-timers) who can be called out to help people, so too in your world the bounty hunters, traffic control persons and other aspects of civil society control.

Musing further - their mandate is violence in service of the State and so calling the police / army in your world is tantamount to calling for a person to be killed - because more often than not that is the result when the police / army arrives at the scene. This scenario would make for good high science fiction - exploring our real world from the perspective of a fictonal one. Those interested and aware of current events in the US can consider these aspects of law enforcement as they see fit.

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    $\begingroup$ In my mind once you had a global government the need for a standing army would decrease and would shift more to counter terrorism and combating insurgents. In this way the army got outdated and their work was picked up by the police (technically probably some sort of state security) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:24

I'd imagine they target different demographics.

The police presence would be largely urban, tied into their support networks and fortresses (stations). In the future this would include megalithic surveillance networks and sensors.

The bounty hunters would go where its not cost efficient to set up the supporting infrastructure (yet). Deep country, swamps, off planet, asteroids. Places they haven't built up yet. Or perps that cant be suppressed with standard urban loudouts.

This means seeing a bounty hunter on a city job would cause friction with local cops ("What's he doing here", "Just as bad as the collars he brings in")


The average citizen is extremely dangerous

Imagine a world not too far into the future where most people own a 3D-printer/replicator, and the personal technology/cybernetic enhancement fields have advanced to a point where people can be stronger and quicker almost without limit.

We have gone post-scarcity, AI governs most high-level systems, leading to a lack of jobs. People get bored, turn to crime for something to do. Those that don't can join the police, solving petty crimes like vandalism, theft, lollygagging etc.

However, the organised crime aspect of the world becomes extremely dangerous, any citizen could print themselves gun parts, and enhance themselves to have super strength and speed. Why would police hunt down these dangerous criminals when they don't need to work? The world is post-scarcity, remember?

That's where the bounty hunters come in. An elite organisation/guild of mercenaries who are also cyber-modded to high heaven, equipped with the very best weaponry. All the government has to do when there's a murder or terrorist attack is post a bounty on the offenders, and the guild will do the rest.

  • $\begingroup$ That implies the State can't win an arms race against criminals: that's true in, like, Somalia, but maybe not usually. And even now criminals can be dangerous (e.g. because of handguns), even so the police do their jobs. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 15:38

See this answer to the question, "How to police a state with high amount of gun ownership where the police are not routinely armed?" -- because the opposite scenario to that might be that it's difficult to police a world where you DON'T have ubiquitous surveillance, and/or where it's easy for private passengers to cross international borders unchecked, and/or where cash is king (or something like cash, i.e. valuable, portable, anonymous, and with a reasonable shelf-life -- cryptocurrency, medicines, or whatever).

Local police work (by definition) against local crime and criminals -- and have no personal experience off-world -- so if ever you want a detective who's hot (or cold) on some fugitive's tail as they flit from one place to another, or try to make a new life elsewhere, that would have to be someone else, e.g. a bounty-hunter.

I don't think they're for "high-risk" arrests because, instead, professional SWAT teams can handle those (and the function of whatever is left of the military is to handle whatever a SWAT team can't).

  • $\begingroup$ maybe the remnants of the military deal with terrorists and insurgencies? All the other functions I believe could be done by the police or a government entity. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah in Canada I think they task the army when there's an unusual snow-storm and they want the emergency man-power; but also if there's something resembling armed insurgency -- e.g. against the FLQ to act as sentries etc. (to leave the police free to do regular police-work) and in the Oka crisis because the police didn't have the training or discipline or what-have-you required to cope with armed resistance non-violently -- ditto Little Rock in the States. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ Dealing with terrorists though is ideally police-work rather than military -- e.g. it's not a (military-grade) anti-tank missile or machine-gun that you want against a "terrorist", rather it's (police-grade) intelligence as to who and where they are (plus sovereignty so that you can go there and arrest them). $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 19:08

The answers by Thorne (about the monetary advantages) and Morris the Cat (about the practical benefits to the safety and 'purity' of regular law enforcement) are both great, and cover what I would think are two of the biggest aspects here if you assume a government that isn't fascist and/or authoritarian.

There's one other really big advantage though:

Once you go interplanetary, you have too much space to cover with traditional canvas policing techniques or even regular patrols.

Quite simply, it's impractical to have law enforcement that comprehensively covers anything beyond planetary orbit, or at most beyond a given star system and established travel routes between systems. There's just way too much area to cover. Even if you had your entire populace providing conventional law enforcement, you still wouldn't be able to reliably cover all your territory. Given this, once you get past planetary orbit, you either need a dedicated force that can track down and retrieve (or terminate) fugitives, or you just treat them as exiles (that is, standing warrants for their incarceration or execution if they show up in areas under jurisdiction of your police, but nobody actively going after them).

This also accentuates both of the aspects of the answers I mentioned above. As the area you need to cover goes up, it makes more sense to pay based on results, and you end up with more and more places for isolated groups of very dangerous criminals to exist.

This aspect of needing an impractical number of officers proportionate to your population to cover a given area is a large part of why bounties were the norm in the American Old West, each town had maybe one or two law enforcement officers, and it was just impractical for them to chase down every last criminal that came through town. You can see the same logic to a lesser extent in the existence of organizations like the US Marshals, there's just too much area for the regular officers at the level of jurisdiction at which they operate to properly cover.

While it's not exactly the primary reason, you can see this in play in a lot of science-fiction settings as well. In Star Wars for example, there actually are planetary and system law enforcement agencies, and even galaxy-wide ones, but bounty hunters are still common enough that outside of certain 'special' areas (the corporate sector or deep core for example), you're more likely to run into them than you are regular law enforcement when traveling the stars.



If you have a detective squad, they'll be busy inside their jurisdiction working on several cases. Cases go cold and get dropped, police have the safety of their wards as a high priority.

Depending on the bounty system you can either A. Assign bounties to hunters specifically, give each a number of them to accomplish and no real timeline. If they complete the task they get significant pay,less than a dedicated detective squad working the task full time, but plenty for a single individual. The reward is set and the time/resources used are up to the contractor to work out. Other answers have mentioned this.

B. Open bounties, anyone who completes a bounty can claim the reward if they're licensed. Once again the reward per task is static and the investment of resources is on the hunter themselves, failure doesn't add cost to the police themselves.


Hunters hunt bounties, they don't do traffic stops, riot suppression, emergency response or anything else. They can spend time on the job because they're specialized and have contacts and licensing to navigate complicated jurisdictional boundaries, they can afford equipment specifically for tracking and hunting people. Their main income is supported by these things, a police department couldn't and shouldn't afford such things at scale.

Networks I mentioned them above but a network of contacts that aren't strictly legal would benefit a bounty hunter and a truly squeaky-clean PD can't be caught doing that. Hunters might network with one another, collaborate on jobs or simply share resources in a way that would not flourish in the bureaucracy of a megacity PD.

Danger Bad folks are gonna kill cops if they're desperate enough, we need cops for a lot of things that aren't hunting fugitives. Better to pay folks that know the risk and chose the line of work than wear out cops you need for more humanitarian cases.

Range Sending a cop far outside their jurisdiction or into seedier areas with a badge risks the officer and almost guarantees failure since they have no effective authority in such a place. Bounty hunters are more discreet because they don't have legal obligations like an officer.

Jurisdictional Respect Sending an officer from my PD to your nation is little problem if we're friendly(Mounties in the US, FBI in Canada, neither are PD but you get the idea), might be a problem if we aren't. Could get some nasty legal battles if we disagree on how something must be handled.

If there's some sort of central registry of bounties that all nations/jurisdictions share, then hunters can collar fugitives anywhere in the world.

Alternatively a bounty hunter might be willing to cross a border, shoot the bad guy and just leave. It's far less of a risk to international relations if a third party that has no official status in my PD gets caught snagging fugitives on a bounty.


The police tend only to do things that are cost effective. They won't go look for your stolen bike even though they know likely locations where it might be stored or for sale. They won't devote more than a certain amount of effort to finding your mugger. They will stop pursuing a fugitive if that fugitive makes it too expensive. They won't try to arrest someone who ripped you off over the internet if they are in a different jurisdiction.

Perhaps it is worth it to me to pay a bounty hunter to do any of those things. Perhaps I'm happy to pay 1000cr to a bounty hunter if I can get my bike back or 50,000cr to get one to track down the man who killed my wife and then disappeared in to the underworld. Maybe a community will club together to pay for a bounty hunter to find the man who said he would broker the sale of their crops and then disappeared with the money.

If you want to differentiate bounty hunters from hired guns you still need the licences and rules that they must follow. So you can pay one to retrieve someone charged with a crime so that the police can arrest them but you can't pay one just to beat up someone you don't like.

This is effectively justice for those who can afford to pay.

  • $\begingroup$ I love the idea of a community pooling money together to hire a bounty hunter. Stuff like finding the corrupt executive that pollutes the water, the serial killer that ravaged their town, etc $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 13:20

Crime, crime and more crime. Why? A black market in a key thing that spawns an underworld that makes prohibition and the drug war look like a tea party (e.g., perhaps touching is a crime, as in the comic Love Not Found; but, unlike the comic where everyone thinks touching is gross, in this world everybody wants it but no one admits it and all touching is covert).

It might be a bit like many aspects of life in the modern People's Republic of China (a 2018 Forbes article captures the feel of it). A totalitarian regime requires lots of watchers. But actually getting things done in a bureaucratic mess like that might take rule breaking bounty hunters.

Extreme economic inequality also creates demand since a lot of gatekeepers and guards must be hired to protect the privileged from the hoi polloi, and the elites then have $$ to hire bounty hunters with better results and service than bureaucratic law enforcement (compare Altered Carbon), not unlike hiring private judges (which exists in real life) with more time to focus on their concerns. Maybe the elites have private prosecutors too.

The two ideas aren't incompatible with each other either.


A short answer is make it challenging to make an honest living and criminals will be numerous. This encourages people to take employment such as bounty hunting as well. Secret Police and informants can be a cheap way of making a highly populated police force and help create an atmosphere of fear and powerlessness. You don't even need to make them fulltime servicemen either.

A corrupt version could be paying for testimony so you can execute someone to set an example...


Another option that I haven't seen mentioned yet is separation of duties. The "Police" branch of the Hegemony's military could be mostly (or entirely) detectives whose job is to determine what happened, who did it, and if it was illegal (in most cases that last one is obvious, but think accidental death vs intentional murder). These people get paid for work done regardless of bodies brought before a judge (or straight to jail). After the police determine something illegal happened, they refer the person to various bounty hunters (or BH networks) who get paid upon bringing the suspect into the system.

Still another option are jurisdictions. Police are bound to an area while a bounty hunter isn't (current world example would be crossing countries to bring someone to justice). That does come with it's own set of legal issues, but that's the hunter's concern, not the cop's.


In the United States, this already exists. Police regularly offer sums of money to anyone who can provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction, banking on a criminal's friend to say "Hey, I think I know who your bank robber is: My buddy has income he can't explain, he paid in multiple large bills... the serial numbers are sequential, and he was drunk at my place last night and said 'I robbed the bank and there's a reward out for me!'. Can I get paid?"

In addition, most common law jurisdictions (basically any country that has it's national origin ties that are related to the United States or The British Empire... serving justice to over 1 billion people daily) have "Citizens Arrest", which basically allows any Joe Schmo to "Arrest" a person who they have a reasonable suspicion of committing a crime... it's frowned upon, but it's not out and out illegal (for a few reasons... it's easy for an untrained citizen to arrest someone in a wrong manner and get the case thrown out... it's dangerous to arrest criminals even if you are a cop.).

Finally there are real life bounty hunters today that work for the police (Almost entirely in the U.S.). Normally the work is done for privately owned "Bail Bondsmen" who are basically loaning criminals the money to put up bail. If they don't pay back, or don't show up to court, the Bondsman will call in a bounty hunter who can go and recover the criminal. Since most of these individuals are not officers of the peace, they don't need warrants to enter property and anyone can citizens arrest. I'm not as up on this enough to post more about the system, but only four U.S. states outlawed this practice.

  • $\begingroup$ A citizens arrest (always for free) is very different from bounty hunting although it can be used by vigilantes (a group in the U.S. called the "Guardian Angels" used it in that way). denver.cbslocal.com/2017/07/22/guardian-angels-colfax-avenue Often bail bond firm employees are the bounty hunters rather than using independent contractors from them to do it. Rewards for snitching are also quite different from paying someone to apprehend someone at large. In medieval Iceland a private person could get authorization from the government to arrest. But, they didn't have any police. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 0:06

To have bounty hunters you need somebody who has interest in catching the fugitives but cannot use the law enforcements agencies to do so.

In the mythical old west this was because weak police presence, in modern US because it is about a private company enforcing the contract it has with the fugitive.

In your case we can exclude the first option, so we can assume that somebody other than the government pays the bounties. Since you are talking about "a network" we can assume that it is the network paying the money and choosing to pay bounties instead of a salary or a wage.

So three conditions for practical bounty hunters.

  1. Private economic interest in catching people, the government does not do it.

  2. Interest in accepted by government as legit, so the police do not stop it.

  3. The interest is irregular enough that normal employment is not a good option.

The conditions are interconnected. The reason it does not make for normal employment and that the police do not do it are probably related. The private interest and the reason the government accepts it are also probably related.

I hate to say this but this kind of implies some not nice things about the state. Basically, the state is choosing to let a private entity to exploit a specific demographic and looks the other way as long as the private entity keeps it informal by handling it on case by case or bounty by bounty basis. Since the cases involve only individuals there is no systematic pattern of abuse, or rather it can be pretended that the patterns rise from the legitimate individual actions of the individuals involved not from discrimination. The state is not to blame that this particular demographic has lots of this kind of problem.

So we can reduce the three conditions to two

  1. A demographic that is considered "outsiders" by the establishment.

  2. An action common in that group that can

    a. be monetized for profit, some sort of financial transaction is involved

    b. serves as an excuse to look the other way, it is their own fault

At this point you kind of need to do the actual world building and fill in the blanks. What kinds of people are on the bottom of the social and political hierarchy to the point of being virtual (but not real) outsiders? What things does this group do to justify being considered fugitive? How can this be monetized? Then just legalize the enforcement of the private contracts involved in the monetization and you have bounty hunters.

You can easily use the modern US as an example how this works or even as a model but it is your world so you can and probably should do something else. This is because even this answer probably reads to most who read this far as a social commentary on the US. With the current political climate that is only one step from seeing this answer as me pushing some sort of liberal political agenda. You want to avoid doing this unless you either actually want to make a political statement or, as with this answer, want to warn against looking like you are making one when you do not.

Naturally it is perfectly possible to write about bounty hunters without going to the social issues behind it. And if you copy those issues from real life instead of making your own you should IMHO.

  • $\begingroup$ The fugitives in my mind where probably going to outcasts (On Earth) both the thug and extremist variety mixed with petty criminals. In my mind they'd be the small fry of their respective groups or at least small fry to the Hegemony. Ex: a dnall time pimp dealing drugs on the side might have a small bounty placed on him by the city council or local peacekeepers busy with other crimes and duties. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also you did bring up a good point about how it could come off as me making a point. I think a good example would be Orson Scott Card who's beliefs in enders game seem to be contrary to his own. Tbh I wanted bounty hunters in my setting, but I also wanted to explore the social system behind it so I could have a well developed world. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor Drug users or extremists would both be valid examples of politically and socially marginalized groups. The business could be the rehabilitation services offered as an alternative to serving time. The excuse could be the fugitive running away from treatment he had agreed to in a legally binding contract despite needing it for his "problem". So yeah, that would work, all of my conditions check, but you need to twist it a little to get the private business angle to it or the police will just handle it. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ maybe the companies who they owe money too or work for hire the bounty hunters to get their investments back. (When it's not private entities putting out the bounties). Also maybe it's the companies that put out the bounties (seeing as all they need to do is prove a crime was committed and the target is currently "on the run"/"evading the law" which could simply be refusing to turn yourself in. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 1:10

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