How Will Rio's Arrest Bounty Play Out?

(Photo: Jorge Andrade)

An interesting e-mail from a reader:

Hello. My name is Thiago, and I am writing from Brazil. I always read freakonomics posts thru my rss reader and I saw a news today that inspired me to write to you.
Rio de Janeiro’s  police started a new policy to incentivize cops to arrest the most wanted drug dealers. The prize: 15 days off and one weekend in a beautiful island at Angra dos Reis with all costs included.

I wondered if this incentive will have a positive effect, whereas there are bad cops who are bribed by drug dealers. What if these bad officers began to been rewarded by drug dealer with tickets to Disney instead of arrest them?
Think about it…

Yes, Thiago, we will think about it! In fact, we’re currently working on a podcast about this very type of unintended consequences — a bounty boomerang, you might call it.


Well, if drug dealers start to try and outbid the government in an attempt to not being arrested, at least the cost of staying out of jail will increase. That's still a marginally good outcome, isn't it? That would come at zero cost, since the government wouldn't be paying if drug dealers are paying.


tough to cash in on Disney without time off


Military Police force in Brazil is divided by states, and the picture above depicts a São Paulo State Military Police Vehicle. As you can see on the side there is a picture repeated in red, grey and black, which is a simplified outline of the São Paulo State Map.

But, regarding the question that was posted, I don´t supposte it will enhance the arresting of more drug dealers, it will sure make the bribery price go up. What would really be beneficial would be increase in police workforce, better salaries, stronger and tighter justice system to punish criminals (inlcluding corrupt cops), more investment on education, erradication of hunger, better healthcare, and speacially having good politicians to show the people what to do instead of what NOT to do".


This may work for arrest drug dealers known, but I don´t believe this to take positive effect on the work of investigation.


Do you the widows get a consolation prize if their spouse dies in the attempt?

If a cop's choice is either taking a bribe or taking a bullet; the most wanted drug dealers probably do not need to sweet the bribe side of the equation.

Thiago Nicacio Lima


My name is Thiago (but, thanks God I'm not the same Thiago above). And thruth or not about the cops, this picture is not the Rio de Janeiro's Police. Those cops are from São Paulo - the city and State that I live. Eache State in Brazil has your Police. Please, change it, 'cause like that this article has no credibility.

Luiz Henirque

This photo is from São Paulo's police, not Rio's. In this state, the cops use the color white and blue.

David Stigant

Advertising where the beautiful getaway is seems like a bad idea. I wouldn't be surprised if angry drug dealers send minions to camp out the resort waiting to "discuss" their boss's recent arrest.

Fatos retos

The number one important thing to get straightened out, before proceeding to any substantive discussion, is whether the above photograph is of a Rio de Janeiro police car or not.

If you click on the photo, you can see an enlarged copy. Clearly the badge on the door just above the word Polícia has the letters PMERJ across the top. They stand for Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. This is a vehicle belonging to the Military Police in Rio. The colors blue, gray, and white are correct.

By way of contrast, the Polícia Civil do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Civil Police of Rio) use black and white on their vehicles.

In the article cited above reference is made not to the Civil Police (which do have a narcotics division), but specifically to the Shock Battalion of the Military Police. And the reward being offered, according to lieutenant Lima Ramos, is only for two specifically named dealers, Inácio de Castro Silva (aka “Canelão”) and another known as “Neto”. It appears to be a one time inducement, not a general policy implementation.

So, the photo appears to be correct!



Caro Fatos Retos, quando o artigo foi postado, a foto era da PM de São Paulo, uma Blazer Cinza Vermelha e Preta com o desenho do mapa do estado ao lado.
Dear Straight Facts, when the article was posted, the original picture was of the Sao Paulo State Military Police (Blazer with Grey, Red and Black detail)

Shane L

My favourite bounty boomerang story, even if it is fictional, is the one author Terry Pratchett relates in his explanation for how Havelock Vetinari became the Patrician of the fictional city of Ankh-Morpork. There had been a rat problem in the city, so the previous rulers had started handing out bounties to anyone who would bring them a tail as evidence that they had killed a rat. Instead the rat population only seemed to grow and grow, with vast numbers of people turning up with tails, causing the the city's coffers to run dry.

Vetinari's suggestion was elegant:

"Tax the rat farms."

Bill Ogorodny

I don't know if a trip is worth youe life. Maybe, a better program would be for the cop to be able to move to the US under an assumed name.