In England and Wales, there are no bounty hunters. The Bow Street Runners superseded the private "thief takers" of the 17th and early 18th centuries in 1749, and the Metropolitan Police succeeded them in 1839. However, some crime writers have suggested that a type of bounty hunter known as a "tracker" operated during this time.
Tracking people down to collect bounties was popular among American frontiersmen who wanted to get money for returning fugitives to authorities. The first recorded case in the United States occurred in 1793 when Major Andrew Lewis tracked and captured a man who had escaped from prison near Pittsburgh. The idea took off after that, with most cases involving individuals looking for revenge against friends or family members. Tracking practices changed over time but remained common into the 20th century. In 1930s Texas, for example, cattle thieves used trackers to find law enforcement officers' homes so they could be robbed with impunity. The practice ended when police began using radar guns.
In fiction, bounty hunters are characters who seek out and capture criminals for rewards. They usually work for crime lords or organizations, such as organized gangs or businesses. Their services are often needed because regular police departments cannot afford to hire detectives to investigate every case that is reported.
Bounty hunters appear in many forms of media, including books, movies, and video games.
Bounty hunting is illegal in the United Kingdom, therefore if someone did this, they would be arrested and charged with assault, kidnapping, perhaps a few weapons-related offenses, and very certainly human trafficking. However, they would not be convicted of murder or manslaughter because these crimes require intent to harm another person, and as law enforcement officers are exempt from criminal prosecution for any act done in good faith, it is unlikely that they could be convicted of these offenses.
In fact, police officers are given special immunity from prosecution for certain actions taken in the course of their duties. For example, they can use reasonable force to make an arrest or prevent escape, and they cannot be sued for negligence while acting in such capacities. However, if they use excessive force or act with malice then they do become liable for injury caused during the arrest.
Likewise, prison guards are given similar protections when acting within the scope of their employment. For example, they can use reasonable force to maintain order or prevent escapes, and they cannot be sued for negligence while acting in such capacities. However, if they abuse their authority by beating up an inmate without cause then they do become liable for injury caused during the encounter.
Finally, any other person who uses violence in the course of rescuing or attempting to rescue someone else could be prosecuted for assault or battery, depending on the circumstances.
The twenty-first century. Bounty hunters, sometimes known as bail enforcement officers or fugitive recovery agents (bail bondsmen), capture those who have jumped bail. Although they work for bail bonds companies, they do not generally hunt down criminals; rather, they search for individuals who have been released from jail before their trials. When found, these people are then interviewed by the bail bond company to see if they can be held liable for the missing person's arrest warrant.
Bounty hunters were first used in California in 1849 by Thomas and John H. Fallon to track down and return escaped slaves to their owners. The Fallens formed what was probably the first blackjack team in the country, with each man being paid $10,000 for his efforts.
In modern-day America, bounty hunters usually work for bail bonds companies but there are some cases where they operate independently of any kind of agency. They tend to focus on finding one specific person rather than multiple suspects at once. Often, they use special equipment to help them navigate through buildings looking for signs of life.
Bounty hunters usually charge per hour spent searching for someone, plus expenses. But there are cases where they have been hired by families who have lost loved ones to find out what happened to them.
Though it conjures up thoughts of Old West vigilantes, the phrase "bounty hunter" was not used in this meaning in the 1800s. The meaning of "one who chases down and catches outlaws" first appeared in pulp literature and Hollywood westerns during the 1950s. Before then, the word "bounty" was used to describe a reward paid for the arrest or conviction of a criminal.
Outlaws would often use their wealth to bribe local law officers to hide evidence, provide information on potential arrests, and even testify against their victims. This practice created a need for people who were willing to go beyond the ordinary police force and hunt down criminals. These individuals were called "bounty hunters."
Bounty hunters were common figures in Western films. They usually worked for a lawyer or a sheriff's office and were given money to track down fugitives. Sometimes they would even catch their targets after all other efforts failed. Though most often seen in fiction, there are actual cases where people have taken up bounty hunting as a career.
In reality, few people had enough influence or access to public records to be able to make a living solely by hunting down criminals. However, some states did offer rewards for specific types of crimes so hunters could make an additional income from their activities.
Bounty hunters played a major role in the history of America.