The Business of Bounty Hunting
Contrary to popular belief, bounty hunters aren’t necessarily vigilante justice seekers who sport tattoos and long hair. Thinking about “Dog the Bounty Hunter”? This is what Bob Burton, who has been tracking down bail jumpers since the 1980s, has to say about the reality show:
BURTON: It’s grossly exaggerated. First of all, no one in the industry acts, or rather looks like that. We’re dealing with cops, judges, district attorneys. We can’t look the way he looks. Forget the long hair, you stand out, and it’s pure television nonsense the way he looks.
Unlike what one might see on TV and the movies, bounty hunting hardly ever involves airborne high-speed chases or a hilarious reconciliation with an ex-spouse. These men and women approach their work like pros. And there are stats to prove it. Bounty hunters catch about 97 percent of all fugitives they pursue, making them significantly more successful than police. But this doesn’t mean police are shirking their duties.
Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and the Independent Institute, says the difference in performance lies in the incentives that drive each professional. Bounty hunters get a pay day only when they nab a fugitive, while police are salaried workers, and are oftentimes juggling several duties at once, making it hard to focus on a single fugitive
Tabarrok adds that there are psychological incentives that influence would-be bail jumpers too: their mothers. On Marketplace, Stephen Dubner talks with Kai Ryssdal about economics of bounty hunting.
Here’s where to find Marketplace on the radio where you live.