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Recruiting the Criminal

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"Set a thief to catch a thief."
— Old Greek proverb

Sometimes the criminals make the best heroes. They don't have reservations on certain things such as "morals" and they have no qualms with going around the proper channels to accomplish their goals. But since they also have skills that have gone around the more natural education system, they are brought in as specialists.

There is practically a built-in subtrope here specifically where hackers are brought in to do some uber-hacking for the good guys.

Compare the subtrope Boxed Crook, when they are offered immediate freedom upon succeeding at a Suicide Mission. Compare also Trading Bars for Stripes, where freedom is offered after going through a tour of military duty. Although in that case, it is more because they are "expendable" than just because of their skills. Also To Catch Heroes, Hire Villains, Condemned Contestant, Doctor von Turncoat, Consulting a Convicted Killer.

Contrast Reformed Criminal, when the character serves the law because of a genuine Heel–Face Turn. One inversion is From Camouflage to Criminal, where a member of the military turns to a life of crime after leaving the service; when the soldier-turned-criminal is the protagonist (especially one who was persecuted or wrongfully convicted, e.g., Rambo, The A-Team), expect this to get doubly inverted with their former commander trying to make a deal with them.

Sometimes overlaps with the Token Evil Teammate, depending on how self-serving they actually are.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • D Grayman's Winter Socalo was a death-row inmate. Upon discovering that he was an accommodator, the Black Order negotiated him being spared under the condition he becomes an exorcist. Now they trust him enough to make him a general and give him the insanely precious innocences.
  • Death Note
    • L hires a con man and a cat burglar during the Yotsuba Group arc. It is stated that he works with them on a regular basis.
    • Light thinks of his recruitment and use of Misa, Takada, and Mikami as this.
  • The manga version of Berserk has the King of Midland, after his regular men and the Bakiraka fail to kill Griffith and the Band of the Hawk following Griffith's rescue, calls upon the Black Dog Knights, made up of the worst murderers, rapists and all around scum that Midland has to offer and led by Wyald, a nasty piece of work of an Apostle, as his last bid for revenge against Griffith.
  • Hiei and Kurama of YuYu Hakusho were partially pardoned of their crimes in exchange for their services in assisting Yusuke with the Four Saint Beasts. Kurama at the least was never dedicated to the criminal lifestyle, only using it for sympathetic reasons. Hiei was the Token Evil Teammate for a few story arcs until a more genuine Heel–Face Turn. But even well into the series, when the team began to discuss what they planned to do now that a particularly powerful enemy was defeated, Hiei responded, "Various crimes."
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has an example of this trope in the final episode of the first season. Motoko and Aramaki try, albeit unsuccessfully, to recruit the infamous Laughing Man. In a variation, the only real crime in the entire series he actually committed was trying to expose a criminal conspiracy at gunpoint, and all the other crimes by the Laughing Man were copycats.
  • In One Piece, the World Government has the Seven Warlords of the Sea (Shichibukai in Japanese), seven extremely powerful pirates who act as privateers. The Seven Warlords are pardoned for their prior crimes and the Marines will turn a blind eye to most of their future crimes, and in return give an annual piece of their plunder and have to respond to orders from the World Government. It's not a perfect system, however — more than one Warlord has used their position to secretly back even more illegal schemes that the Marines won't overlook (including heinous crimes against humanity), some are shown to hate the very institution they serve, and even the so-called 'loyal' Warlords have their own agendas (barring Mihawk, who's implied to have joined because he was bored and makes it clear that he can ditch them whenever he wants). However, since their job is to act as a deterrent to prevent more piracy rather than to serve the public at large, the World Government doesn't particularly care, and at points even goes to great lengths to protect them and their reputation. Because of these flaws, several of the more benevolent World Government officials would prefer for the Warlord system to be abolished and eventually the World Government can't put up with the Warlords abusing their powers any longer and completely do away with the system. Ironically, many of those same Marine officers who oppose the Warlord system have worked together with and even become almost friends with individual pirates outside the system.
  • Bleach:
    • Zaraki considers himself and Yachiru Unohana to be examples of this. He claims the only reason Soul Society hasn't executed them already is because of their combat prowess. Unohana agrees.
    • Kisuke Urahara's backstory shows that he recruited Mayuri Kurotsuchi, who was at that point locked up in solitary confinement, as his personal research assistant, with the clincher being that were he to die, Mayuri would become Captain.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, the title characters are criminals themed around the Seven Deadly Sins but are knights that are being regrouped to free a kingdom oppressed by some rather nasty Knight Templars.
  • In Psycho-Pass, many members of the MWPSB are Enforcers, so-called "latent criminals" who haven't physically committed a crime yet, but are judged by the Sibyl System to have a mental state that is conducive to crime. Because they're able to more clearly understand the criminal mind, Enforcers are usually the ones who do the real detective work, while their Inspector partners act mostly as a leash to keep them under control.
  • In the Lupin III manga, Lupin was hired by the Japanese government to rescue a captured spy and recover the intel said spy was after in return for amnesty for all his crimes up to that point. Here, the reason was simply that Lupin's Impossible Thief talents made him the perfect man for the job; if anyone could covertly steal a prisoner and information from under the nose of somebody who'd already caught a spy and was thus on alert, it would be him.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • In the prequel, A Choice With No Regrets, rumors that Levi joined the military under such circumstances are confirmed. A criminal that used stolen 3D Maneuver Gear to commit crimes, his skill caught the attention of Erwin and resulted in Levi's gang being hunted down. After being given An Offer You Can't Refuse, Levi was recruited directly into the Survey Corps and would eventually become Erwin's Number Two and humanity's strongest soldier.
    • Kenny Ackerman, Levi's uncle, gained a reputation as a Serial Killer due to his efforts to protect his relatives from the Secret Police hunting them down. When he tried to assassinate the king, he was swiftly defeated. Rather than kill him, the king instead made Kenny the leader of the very same Secret Police who had hunted him. He and Kenny also became friends and confidants.
  • Ryo Saeba of City Hunter is a criminal by his own admission as he's a Hitman with a Heart, but once in a while he does works for the police officer Saeko... Who regularly cheats him on the pay.
  • Crime Sorcière from Fairy Tail came into existence when Ultear Milkovich and Merudy (defected members of Grimoire Heart's Seven Kin of Purgatory) broke Jellal Fernandez (a man who was brainwashed into becoming an international terrorist and cult leader by Ultear) out of prison in order to form a guild dedicated to bringing down dark guilds around the country. Eventually, they end up recruiting Cobra, Racer, Angel, Hoteye, and Midnight of Oracion Seis after they were "pardoned" (read; exchanged info on dark guild Tartaros for their freedom) by the Council to ensure they wouldn't go back to their evil ways.
  • In the epilogue of Ojojojo Tsurezure, who was raised to be an assassin when he was a child, ends up using those very same skills to become a professional bodyguard after graduating high school.
  • Gauche from Black Clover was an escaped convict imprisoned for mugging a noble after his parents were killed for their wealth and he and Marie were cast out. Yami defeated him and convinced him to join the Black Bulls to support his sister.
  • Witch Hunter Robin gives us Michael, who was a Playful Hacker who never did anything malicious. He then made the mistake of hacking the STN's computer systems and was caught after he discovered the existence of witches and magic and had his trail traced. Under threat of death because he found out about witches, he instead chose to trade his service and works for STN-J as their literal (as in, he can't leave the office with explicit permission) in-house hacker.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman Sins Of The Father, an Interquel to Batman: The Telltale Series' first and second seasons, ends with someone recruiting Deadshot for a job that's extremely dangerous. Perhaps even suicidal. His response is simply "I'm in".
  • This strategy backfires in Seven Psychopaths, where the group of Ragtag Bunch of Misfits recruited to assassinate Hitler includes a narcissistic con artist and Master of Disguise who joins for the promise of glory. Nobody foresaw the risk in putting an amoral Glory Hound who can impersonate anybody in a situation where the position of "most important man in Germany" has suddenly been rendered vacant.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spider-man employed the use of the villain Sandman a few times in order to catch up to his old teammates in the Sinister Six. This eventually led to a Heel–Face Turn but he eventually returned to a life of crime. This setback didn't stop Spidey from once again asking for his help in tracking down an alternate reality version of his Uncle Ben who was linked to a crime (long story).
    • Spidey also asked Venom for help almost every time he had to face Carnage since they both had related alien symbiotes.
  • In the Judge Dredd story "The Cursed Earth", Dredd needs to recruit a second biker to deliver a pack of vaccines to Mega-City Two. Though plenty of Judges are willing, Dredd recruits convicted criminal and mutant Spikes Harvey Rotten, who is the best biker in the Big Meg and knows the Cursed Earth very well.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Micro Managing" (DC run, issue #68), Blossom recruits Mojo Jojo to help her defeat the Micro-Puffs, who have brainwashed Bubbles and Buttercup into thinking they're the leader of the team. It ends with Blossom and Mojo shaking hands in the pulsating hearts panel.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the League recruits terrorist Prince Nemo, serial killer Mr. Hyde, and rapist Hawley Griffin in order to use their unique talents to prevent The Doctor from attacking London.
  • In Sunfire and Big Hero 6, Gogo Tomago is recruited out of prison.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The quickest, but certainly not easiest, way to secure one's release from Reformation Island is to ask to become an ambassador of the Amazon's philosophy in the wider world. The tests one must go through to prove to be actually reformed and dedicated to acting by Amazon guidelines are rather grueling but proving oneself is the only way to get out in less than a year.
  • In The Krypton Chronicles, former criminals Shyla Kor-Onn and Black Flame are recruited to help with the reconstruction of the city of Kandor.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Butcher Bird, related to the One Piece example - After forming a massive pirate alliance, Vinci is tapped to become a Warlord of the Sea.
  • In Dungeon Keeper Ami, this is Keeper Mercury's favorite recruiting technique. Ambushed by goblins? Kidnapped by mercenaries? Need to get rid of vampires? Hire them all and add them to your army.
  • Mercury from the Inheritance Cycle fanfic series "A dance of Shadow and Light" by Ocadioan has become known for doing this on multiple occasions throughout the series. As of Phoenix-fire, he even goes as far as to recruit people that he knows are out to kill or usurp him because they are particularly efficient at what they do.
  • Yuugao in Eroninja recruits Fuuka's help in figuring out a serial killer due to the latter's several decades of experience as a serial killer in order to prolong her lifespan. Fuuka manages to figure out both the order of the killings and why they were killed in said order (namely the killer was seducing her targets and was building up confidence in her looks/abilities).
  • At the beginning of the Rango fanfic Old West, Sheriff Rango hires the outlaw Rattlesnake Jake to protect the town of Mud against mercenaries that have been attacking for unknown reasons. Later Jake enlists another infamous outlaw known as "the Scarlet Kiss" to track down the hiding place of the mercenaries while he's stuck on the protection duty.
  • In Webwork, Hak Foo ends up recruited to serve as the muscle of Section 0, and goes along with it only because his constant defeats at the hands of the J-Team have ruined his mercenary career, and this is the only work he can get.
  • In The Undesirables, one of the people recruited by Princess Luna for her team is Therapsid, a Changeling who partook in espionage in Canterlot prior to the Wedding invasion, who was then captured in the aftermath and has been imprisoned ever since. He's given his freedom, and a chance to show up his people for abandoning him, in exchange for joining the team.
  • This may be the motive of the Amulet of Daylight in various Trollhunters stories where a Changeling is picked as the next Trollhunter.

    Films — Animated 
  • Lilo & Stitch: To catch the dangerous genetic experiment, the Intergalactic Alliance sends the Mad Scientist who created him (who they had arrested barely hours before) since he's the only one who knows how to defeat him.
  • In Despicable Me 2, the Anti-Villain League recruits retired supervillain Gru to help save the world.
    Tagline: When the world needed a hero, they called a villain.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Inverted in Blue Streak, in which diamond thief Miles Logan accidentally gets hired as a cop while trying to retrieve a diamond he hid in the police headquarters. This proceeds a lot like other movies with the same theme, however, as he very effectively teaches his new colleagues (from personal experience) how to think like criminals in order to catch criminals. Interestingly, he seems to have expertise in completely different types of crime from his own. It's hard to believe that a professional jewel thief and safecracker would know so much about drug smuggling.
  • Pretty much the entirety of The Longest Yard is the prison warden demanding an inmates vs. prison guards football game and Burt Reynolds's character being forced to recruit the various criminals with no promise of any reward but a chance to beat up the guards, humiliate the guards or both.
  • Han Solo of Star Wars is a classic example. Need a fast transport and don't want any Imperial problems? Hire a ship captain who specializes in smuggling.
  • The Bad News Bears: Jackie Earle Haley as the local tough guy and best all-around athlete who gets recruited to be on the team.
  • Pretty much everyone in Martin Bishop's team in Sneakers has had a run-in with the law (or at least a higher authority) at one point or another. For example:
    • Whistler is supposed to be one of the best phone phreaks in America (side note: Whistler is also a Shout Out to the phone phreaks John "Captain Crunch" Draper and Josef "Joybubbles" Engressia).
    • Donald Crease got kicked out of the CIA because he couldn't control his temper.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series:
    • In Mission: Impossible Ethan Hunt recruits two disavowed agents to help pull off the Langley heist. One of them later turns out to be working with the bad guy.
    • In Mission: Impossible II, this is subverted. Ethan thinks he's recruiting the master thief in order to steal something until his Mission Control reveals they only wanted her because she previously had a relationship with the Big Bad, and they want to exploit that to get a person inside for recon.
  • In Catch Me If You Can, Hanratty recruits the imprisoned check forger extraordinaire Frank Abagnale to apprehend check forgers.
  • John Spartan from Demolition Man is recruited in 2032 to catch the psychopath Simon Phoenix after Phoenix's escape from the cryogenic prison in which he had been incarcerated since 1996. Spartan is actually the cop who caught Phoenix in 1996 but is legally considered a criminal, having been put in the "fridge" at the same time after being wrongly convicted of sacrificing innocent lives in his apprehension of Phoenix, and to the timid bureaucrats of 2032, he is as much an animal as Phoenix.
    Spartan: Send a maniac to catch a maniac.
  • In 48 Hrs. and its sequel, Another 48 Hrs, tough cop Jack recruits loudmouthed criminal Reggie because of Reggie's connection to the case.
  • Escape from New York: In the year 1997, Manhattan is a giant, walled-off prison with no guards. When the President is unlucky enough to get stuck there after Airforce One is shot down, condemned criminal Snake Plissken is offered his freedom in exchange for rescuing him.
  • In Thor: The Dark World, Thor is forced to go to his brother Loki, who has been imprisoned after The Avengers, for help, as he is the only one who knows how to escape Asgard without the Bifrost.
  • In Ant-Man, Reformed Criminal Scott Lang is chosen by Hank Pym to take up his role as the titular hero, and combined the super suit's shrinking powers with his thieving skills in order to steal back Pym's stolen research. Hilariously lampshaded by this exchange:
    Scott: My days of breaking into places and stealing shit are over. What do you want me to do?
    Hank: I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.
  • Suicide Squad (2016) is of the Boxed Crook variety, jailed supervillains put on dangerous black-ops missions by shady government official Amanda Waller. In the movie, the Token Good Teammate Rick Flag insists they can't do anything a well-trained special forces team can't do, but Waller brings up a Real Life example that during WWII the Navy enlisted aid from The Mafia to protect strategically valuable docks.
  • A Clockwork Orange. Alex is shocked to find the former members of his gang in police uniform. Apparently the government has been deliberately recruiting the thuggish element of British society to keep their fellow thugs in line. At the end of the film, a government official implies that Alex himself will come in useful in political repression.
  • Moving Violations: During the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, an on-screen caption proclaims that the lead character was sentenced to traffic school so many times that the county made him the instructor in desperation. Who now passes everybody who takes the course.

  • In the last of the Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce, King Jonathon hires King of Thieves George Cooper as the spymaster of Tortall.
  • Mundungus Fletcher from Harry Potter is a known thief, but his ties to the underworld are valuable to the Order.
  • In the Judge Dee stories, Tao Gan is a master crook, dice cheater, pickpocket, and lockpicker. He is recruited by the judge for his many talents after Dee saves him from an angry mob. He recruits his other two lieutenants (former highwaymen) after a brief swordfight gets interrupted by a passing squad of soldiers but the judge doesn't give them away.
  • The Dresden Files
    • Harry Dresden has done this a couple of times with Gentleman Johnny Marcone, most notably in White Night. Marcone is a dangerously pragmatic mob boss with access to men and weapons far beyond the under-funded police department Harry also works with. Harry has to be careful as Marcone will take advantage of any opportunities he sees, and their dealings have a definite whiff of Deal with the Devil about them.
    • Morgan views Harry being made a Warden as this trope, although of course Harry is actually a Hero with Bad Publicity.
  • In Kiki Strike, Kiki hires delinquent Girl Scouts.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat This is basically how the Special Corps operates: they recruit non-homicidal criminals to catch the more dangerous ones. Da Chief is himself one of the most infamous thieves in the galaxy. He is the one who manages to trap the protagonist before offering him the job.
  • Discworld
    • Lord Vetinari recruits Con Man Moist Von Lipwig to reform the postal office... and the banking system. In both cases, part of the task at hand is surviving a murderous fraudulent enterprise tangentially connected to both, thus making Moist ideal for the job.
      Von Lipwig: I've robbed banks!
      Vetinari: Capital! Just reverse your thinking. The money should be on the inside.
    • Vetinari did this on a grand scale with the Thieves' Guild. Some form of thieves' guild had already existed in Ankh-Morpork, but Vetinari made them responsible for theft in the city, with a professional structure and quotas on thieving. They also have to, and quite take pride in, reducing unofficial theft in the city. Turns out they're much better at reducing crime than the Watch ever were, because all they have to do is work less. It does help too that they have no rules about how they treat unlicensed thieves, who can count themselves extremely lucky if the Watch catches them before the Guild does.
  • Inverted in The Polish Officer by Alan Furst. A new agent for La Résistance in World War II asks a former detective for advice on how to be a fugitive.
  • In a Bill Pronzini short-short story, a recently released car thief gets the jones and tries to steal a fancy car, only to be found out by the owner. Fortunately for him, said owner is in the repossession business, and now the thief gets to satisfy his craving to steal cars in a perfectly legal fashion.
  • Minor example: in the first Honor Harrington novel, Honor needs some people to do customs work, but doesn't have anyone with the necessary professional background. So she requests that the bosun find her some people with, ah, personal familiarity with the smuggling process instead. (One of whom becomes a series mainstay and, among other things, uses his sneakiness and computer hacking prowess to pull off a truly phenomenal rescue later on. So good move there.)
  • Time Scout's Kit Carson doesn't quite say "Set a thief to catch a thief", but he comes pretty darn close.
  • This happens twice in the Shadow of the Templar series: in the first book, Gentleman Thief Jeremy Archer offers to help the FBI stop his former employer when said former employer turns out to be a terrorist; in the second book, the "set a thief to catch a thief" maxim is played completely straight when the FBI calls him up for help in catching a thief with an identical M.O. and a murderous streak.
  • In Vernor Vinge's novella True Names, the Feds would love to bust the protagonist, Mr. Slippery, now that they've uncovered his real identity, but unfortunately, they need him to help catch the even more dangerous and elusive hacker known as The Mailman.
  • In Chrono Hustle, the TRD hire con-artist Jack Masterson, in order to help them catch con-artist Jack Masterson... time travel was involved.
  • At the beginning of The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School, the Differently Powered Individual students of Drearcliff are being instructed by an upright, honorable teacher who is supposed to be inspiring them but turns out to have the disadvantage that her version of uprightness and honor doesn't do well against sneaky and creative opponents. So the Headmistress decides on a change of strategy and recruits the most notorious rule-breaker in school history as their new instructor.
  • As The Mental State mostly takes place in prison, it is difficult finding someone to recruit who is NOT a criminal.
  • In When Demons Walk, the protagonist, a thief and burglar, is employed to spy on the aristocrats in order to catch a murderer.
  • The Everything Box: The Department of Peculiar Science arranges for Coop, an expert burglar with a rare gift of Anti-Magic, to be released early from prison in exchange for him stealing an artifact for them. It also recruits his old partner and ex-girlfriend for their own magical gifts and criminal expertise, albeit with only the threat of jail time as an alternative.
  • In The Fire's Stone, Aaron the thief is recruited to help Darvish on his mission as he's conveniently being kept by Darvish as a pet anyway after Darvish rescued him from prison torture.
  • Laszlo Hadron and the Wargod's Tomb: In their attempts to track down the pieces of an ancient artifact, Space Pirates Laszlo Hadron and Isis Lagato are captured and arrested by the Solar Commonwealth, only to be contracted to steal one of those pieces from the collection of a wealthy collector on Earth due to the possibly apocalyptic dangers at stake.
  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi: Despite her family's wealth and political power, Salima hires Amina, a notorious outlaw, to rescue her kidnapped granddaughter Dunya. Justified as Amina is both capable and discreet — it would undermine the family name and Dunya's marriage prospects if the kidnapping became public knowledge.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Longest Day in Chang'an: This is how Zhang Xiao Jing gets involved in the plot. Li Bi recruited another criminal before the series starts; when he's killed Xiao Jing is chosen as a replacement.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Garak was recruited by Sisko for help in planting evidence to convince the Romulans that the Dominion have intentions of invading Romulan territory.
    • In another episode Quark is recruited to help hack into a secured database.
  • Leverage
    • Nate is the only team member who doesn't have some sort of criminal background (when they start).
    • Season 3 sees the team blackmailed by an INTERPOL detective to pull off a heist on a banker for criminals.
    • In Season 5, a government official "requests" that Eliot, Hardison, and Parker help him stop a terrorist plot.
  • Michael from Burn Notice occasionally employs the services of the money launderer Barry and the gun runner Seymour for various jobs. Michael himself is a fired CIA agent, and so without the backing of the CIA, most of his history looks criminal in nature. Because no legitimate government employee wants anything to do with him, he has to rely on the "lesser evil" criminals for help.
  • Parodied in Seinfeld where George hired the best freelance electrician around to wire a battery to a Frogger arcade machine he bought so he could keep his high score. The electrician was disappointed that it wasn't a heist, though George said if he wanted to he could steal the necessary tools.
  • The TV series Fast Lane had a crook named Aquarius the boys used from time to time to "procure" certain "items;" for example, a truckful of blank US gov't paper upon which they'll counterfeit $100 bills. Candy Store leader Billie tried to recruit a criminal to play undercover cop before the series started, but the criminal she chose for the gig turned out to be a backstabbing Magnificent Bastard that tried to kill her and ran away when he couldn't, leading to her decision to recruit Cowboy Cops.
  • And there's the original show called It Takes a Thief (1968) (the one starring Robert Wagner), which has pretty much the same premise as White Collar.
  • Firefly.
    • Mal actually recruits Jayne while Jayne and two others are attempting to rob him and Zoe. Granted, technically the whole crew is pretty much composed of criminals since they're smugglers, but Jayne is of the dirtier outlaw type.
    • On a broader note, the whole crew are criminals when necessary, though they range from happy go lucky wouldn't hurt a fly Kaylee to gun-loving hard-living hired muscle Jayne. When Simon and Book sign up for passage on the good ship Serenity, they're unknowingly invoking the trope.
  • House: Dr. House recruited Dr. Foreman because he had a criminal record for burglary from when he was a poor black teenager, which piqued his interests. House also needed a guy to break into patients' homes to check for drugs and such, since House does not trust patients to be honest about such things.
  • The USA Network show White Collar is a story almost exactly like that of Catch Me If You Can, a criminal being recruited by the FBI. The show's tagline is "To solve the hardest crimes, hire the smartest criminal."
  • The Reality Show It Takes a Thief (2005) is about how to properly prepare for a possible break-in. Then they break in (both hosts are former burglars) and have the homeowners watch the tactics.
  • In Criminal Minds, Garcia got a job at the FBI because she was busted hacking into one the FBI's databases. Her choice was to go to jail or use her skills for the FBI.
  • Guerrero from Human Target is an assassin hired to help protect people. The hero of the story also used to be in the business of killing people.
  • Breakout Kings is about a team of criminals hired to catch prison escapees.
  • Multiple examples from the cops on The Wire, the most prominent being their use of snitches like Bubbles, a homeless junkie. Another plotline involves them cutting a deal with Omar, one of the most dangerous criminals in Baltimore, to get him to testify against the Barksdale hitman, Bird.
  • Power Rangers:
    • In Power Rangers S.P.D., Sky, Bridge, and Syd are sent out to apprehend two criminals named Z and Jack, who are stealing items to give to the poor. The two end up in jail and are given a choice: be Power Rangers or rot in jail. Z readily accepted and Jack reluctantly followed later. In fact, Jack was given the red ranger powers, to the annoyance of Sky.
    • When assembling a team of treasure-hunters as the Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, Andrew Hartford included the thief Will Aston for his skills. Given the franchise's usual approach to morality, we're supposed to assume he's a Reformed Criminal, but it was never specified - during a 10-Minute Retirement, he was shown doing a legit job testing a place's security, meaning it's entirely possible that he's a professional security systems tester.
  • In Torchwood, Toshiko Sato was facing life in prison without parole for stealing alien technology from the government. Then Captain Jack Harkness, impressed with her engineering skill, shows up and offers her a job. Of course, Jack himself can be considered this, as he doesn't exactly have a spotless record (what with being a conman from the future and all).
  • Alphas has Cameron Hicks, an ex-Marine mind-controlled to assassinate someone in the pilot. At the end of the episode, Dr. Rosen offers him a position on his team of people with superhuman abilities, subtly hinting that he may go to jail for murder if he doesn't (good luck using the "mind control" defense in court).
  • Subverted in The Invisible Man. Darien is recruited by the Agency not for his skills as a thief but because of the "quicksilver" gland in his head that allows him to become invisible. He is kept in check by the fact that only the Agency can produce the "counteragent" necessary to keep him from going insane. That doesn't mean that his criminal skills don't come in handy, though.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger had an arc that featured Michael Ironside as a Big Bad. The Rangers recruited a young female hacker named Buzz to help bring him down. She ended up having the remainder of her sentence commuted.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • In the first episode, Skye is caught hacking into SHIELD's computer network. Coulson decides to recruit her for his team.
    • It is later invoked when Hunter and Bobbie infiltrate the ATCU by pretending to be part of an FBI anti-cybercrime unit. Hunter pretends to be a master hacker working for the FBI to avoid a lengthy prison sentence and Bobbie is his no-nonsense FBI handler.
  • Doctor Who
    • A common format for Fourth Doctor stories was for the Time Lords to force him to do their dirty work, as they have an Alien Non-Interference Clause that he (being a thief, an outlaw, and a natural-born meddler) constantly ignores. A notable serial with this format is "Genesis of the Daleks", in which they try to force him to commit pre-emptive genocide against the Daleks on their behalf. This pattern had started in the Third Doctor days when he was otherwise on earthbound house arrest.
    • In "The Five Doctors", the Time Lords recruit the Master to save the Doctor, who is trapped in the Death Zone on Gallifrey.
  • In his first appearance on Murder, She Wrote, Dennis Stanton is a Gentleman Thief with a grudge against a specific insurance firm. In his later appearances, he's an insurance investigator himself.
  • The team in CSI: Cyber includes captured former "black hat" hackers who agreed to work for the FBI to stay out of jail.
  • Frontier Circus: At the end of "Mighty Like Rogues", Casey hires Mrs. Jukes to use her criminal skills to protect the circus from other thieves.
  • Person of Interest: This is technically what happens with Root, although it's the Machine that does the actual recruiting. The team doesn't want anything to do with her aside from a brief use of her as a Godzilla Threshold until it becomes clear that the Machine is utilizing her as one of its agents partially due to her devotion to it and partially because she's so damn useful.
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • Savant, the hacker who cracked into the precinct's network, is eventually given a job as the precinct's IT and computer security specialist. Although it is played with a bit, in that when Gina recommends him for the job she offers reasons beyond his criminality, Sgt. Jeffords is skeptical it's a good idea and makes a point of informing Savant in no uncertain terms that if he does anything to abuse his newfound access or harm the precinct, his fate will not be a pleasant one:
    Jeffords: [Holding a magic 8-ball] Savant, you're part of the 9-9 now. We look after each other. [To the 8-ball] Hey, ball. If Savant was to do anything to harm this precinct, would I destroy him?!
    [Jeffords crushes the 8-ball with one hand; Savant gapes in terror. Jeffords looks at the remains of the 8-ball.]
    Jeffords: Answer uncertain. Try again.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Murdoch Sting", Murdoch recruits (or is recruited by) Historical Domain Character Cassie Chadwick, keen to find the woman who's stealing her con.
  • In the 1990's British spy comedy The Piglet Files, MI5 recruits a safecracker to burgle their rivals in MI6. Since the whole operation is off the books they have to arrange his escape instead of his legal release, a fact that our hero isn't actually told when ordered to pick the man up in the getaway car...
  • In Next (2020), CM was facing a long prison sentence for hacking the DOJ before he got recruited by Special Agent Shea to serve in her cybercrime task force.
  • In Trace, Rogozina gets Tikhonov out of jail, when she needs a high-class hacker. Justified, as Tikhonov was her student at the university, so she is sure he suits this role.
  • In the opening for the Thunderbirds episode "Vault of Death", ex-safecracker Parker is hired to break into a bank to test out its security system.
  • Loki (2021): The protagonist Loki variant is recruited by Agent Mobius to help them hunt down a rogue variant killing their enforcer squads. Specifically a Loki variant.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The standard Thief in a traditional Dungeons & Dragons adventure party. Turns out the guy skilled in picking locks and pickpocketing tends to do that for a living, who knew?
  • Hero Realms can have the player purchase Champions from several factions to work for them. Among them is are the agents of a shadow criminal syndicate and the various members of a violent death cult.
  • In the grim darkness of the far future, the Dark Heresy series tells us that the "rogue" archetype is now called "Scum". While the game book states that such characters don't have to have been criminals, merely growing up as the downtrodden in the Crapsack World that is the 41st millennium, your non-mission monthly income explicitly comes from swindling, pickpocketing, being a card shark...
  • Criminals are sometimes sentenced to enter The Splinter as punishment. If they survive long enough, they can become super stars.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect
    • You recruit a lot of these in Mass Effect 2. In order to stop the threat of the Reapers, Shepard is forced to join with a terrorist organization, Cerberus, and therefore has a few people classified as terrorists under his/her command. Over the course of the game s/he recruits a Cowboy Cop turned vigilante, an assassin, a lab rat turned convict, a (DLC) Classy Cat-Burglar, a (DLC) mercenary, a geth in a universe where AI is illegal, and possibly a serial killer — though she's optional, and probably not the best choice, since she replaces a more reliable party member.
    • In the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3, it's shown in a historical archive that the first Spectre was a Cowboy Cop who was imprisoned for using 30 civilians as bait to flush out a criminal.
  • Dragon Age: Origins,
    • You recruit Sten (who has been locked up to die of starvation for slaughtering a family of farmers after freaking out over the loss of his sword), Zevran (an assassin sent after you—just the most recent contract in implied long chain of murders), Oghren (who's a drunken lout and was about to be kicked out of Orzammar anyways) a number of apostates (rogue mages) and even possibly Loghain Mac Tir, the one responsible for King Cailan's death at the start of the game by leaving him to die at Ostagar. As a Grey Warden, you have a right to recruit anyone you wish without regard for local laws. A number of Grey Wardens (including Duncan himself, who was a pickpocket in Orlais) were recruited straight from jail.
    • Depending on the origin, even the Warden can fall into this category. The Dwarf Noble is either tricked into/framed for the murder of their elder brother, the Dwarf Commoner was caught impersonating a Noble in a Proving, the City Elf murdered half of a castle during a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against an Arl's son for raping their cousin, and the Mage Origin is caught helping a fellow Mage try to flee the Circle. All are rescued from a grisly fate by Duncan's intervention, and when you play as other origins it's possible to find signs of what would have happened to you had Duncan not been there, such as finding your alternate self dead in a dungeon cell in Orzammar.
  • Starbound has infinite colonial quests and odd jobs given to the players by the procedurally generated citizens of the galaxy. One such mission type is to hunt down a notorious criminal hanging around. Often, when brought to low enough health, they will surrender and ask you to put your weapon away to accept. Sometimes they are then recruitable as ship crew for your spaceship... or they call you an idiot and summon in allies to help finish you off.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
    • During the Sith Warrior prologue, you deal with an assassin who killed a high-ranking operative in the Empire. The jailer, and quite a few other Sith, think that she was hired by the Republic, but she reveals herself as a freelancer who works for the highest bidder. The Light Side option is to recruit her into Imperial Intelligence. Your trainer, Overseer Tremel, commends you on the decision, telling you that you should never let an opportunity to recruit a powerful ally slip through your fingers.
    • The Imperial Agent's first companion, Kaliyo, is a wanted criminal and known anarchist who figures out that you're not the Red Blade (your cover identity in the prologue). Keeper offers her a small fortune to keep her quiet and help you out.
    • The Bounty Hunter's companion, Gault. He is one of their targets for the Great Hunt of Act I. He gives you a duplicate body to turn in for the bounty and offers to accompany you in exchange for his life. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, you have to recruit him.
    • Somewhat subverted with Skadge, a former gang boss you cooperate with to deal with a mutual enemy who simply forces his way into your crew whether you like it or not.
    • The Republic Trooper ends up recruiting Tanno Vik, a former Republic soldier turned freelance mercenary to become the team's resident Demolitions Expert. It's stated that despite being dishonorably discharged, his talents as a demoman are such that he's worth recruiting into Havok Squad.
  • The Sly Cooper games will invariably have Interpol Inspector Carmelita Fox enlist the aid of the titular protagonist (a thief who only targets other criminals) to take down the Big Bad at the climax of the game. Also occasionally inverted in that Sly and his gang will manipulate her into unwittingly helping them out now and then, with her willingly (albeit out of necessity) joining the Cooper Gang officially in the fourth game.
  • In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the Evil, Inc. Roxxon takes in Rhino after he's defeated by Peter and Miles, having him serve as an enforcer for them instead of sending him back to prison. He asks them to remove the Powered Armor grafted onto his skin but the Corrupt Corporate Executive Krieger takes advantage of his Blood Knight personality and convinces him to let them upgrade it instead so he could get revenge on Miles.
  • The indie game Primal Carnage has the Trapper (A.K.A. Jackson Stone). He is wanted around the world for "uncountable offences". Basically he is a prolific poacher and criminal but his experience in capturing large dangerous animals means the "unknown peoples" hand-waved his criminal record because he was much too valuable to pass for the near-suicidal job of hunting Super-Persistent Predator genetically-modified dinosaurs.
  • Played with in the case of Simon Blackquill, the main prosecutor of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. While he is in jail for most of the game, the skill he's valued for is his psychology manipulation technique, which has nothing to do with a criminal's skillset. Turnabout For Tomorrow reveals that Simon was never a criminal in the first place, going to jail to protect Athena Cykes.
  • Sakura Wars 3: Ogami and co. recruit Lobelia Carlina, a female pyrokinetic who is described as the "greatest villain in Paris" and being single-handedly responsible for 80% of the city's criminal activity, into the Paris Assault Force.
  • In BattleCry, the Imperial Marines team's Brawler character, Hagen, was facing charges of manslaughter (and a firing squad) until offered a chance to sign up instead.
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, you can meet the cyberpsycho woman from the game's 2013 teaser trailer during the quest "Bullets", and learn that after her arrest she went on to become a MaxTac officer. She comes off as a By-the-Book Cop but still has Blood Knight tendencies, asking V if they enjoy killing like she does.
  • In Infiltrating the Airship, the government hires Henry Stickmin after hearing about his successes in escaping prison (after a failed attempt to break into a bank vault) and stealing a valuable diamond, all of which happened in the series' previous games. He is tasked with infiltrating the Toppat Clan's airship and either capturing their leader or finding information that can be used to arrest the clan. In exchange, the government promises that Henry's criminal record will be erased. Depending on your choices, this can go in many different ways for the government.
  • Overwatch: When the Deadlock Gang were caught for smuggling arms, one of its members took the chance to work for Blackwatch instead of being sent to prison. Thus began the process of Cole Cassidy burning every single bridge he crossed with them.
  • Tales of Destiny: Most of the main party (Stahn, Rutee, and Mary) are recruited criminals using the main quest to complete their community service sentence. To stop them from escaping, shock tiaras are placed on their foreheads and Leon Magnus goes with them as their handler.
  • In XCOM 2, some of your recruits can be suspected or convicted criminals.
  • Tyranny:
    • It is rumoured that the Archon of Justice sometimes recruits criminals to be Fatebinders for Kyros the Overlord under 'criminals are well-versed in finding criminals' logic, and given that exactly this is one possible background for your character the rumours seem true. This has some overlap with Trading Bars for Stripes, though Fatebinders are more akin to Judges than soldiers, and hold a great deal of power to the point that they sometimes can command entire armies.
    • This is also a common recruiting method for the Scarlet Chorus, who often recruit violent criminals and psychopaths to fill their ranks. Unsurprisingly, they are also the most depraved of the factions.
  • The Templar Order of Diablo III presents itself as an order that redeems criminals and presses them into service for the Light. Those they recruit are "stripped of their sins" via Cold-Blooded Torture as a means of "purifying" them. Unfortunately, the truth is a whole lot uglier — the Templars don't really give a blessed damn about your actual guilt or innocence, and will gladly pile false sins upon an innocent if they need their skills, as they did to both Kormac and Jondar.

    Web Comics 
  • In Freefall, the police chief tries to recruit Sam after Sam helped figure out where Florence was. He tells him that catching crooks is even more of a challenge than committing crimes, but Sam still declines.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob, this has been played around with concerning Tenshirock. When the hidden purpose behind his activities is accomplished in the webseries finale, someone suggests he gets himself employed in the company making the online game in which the story is set. He refuses for various reasons that include inherent spoilers. In Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions, The Watson for his situation assumed that this trope happened after hearing part of his story before getting corrected. The teaser prologue for the 20 Minutes into the Future Spin-Off hints this will eventually happen in some form, as Tenshirock's real name is dropped as one of the people behind certain features of the virtual reality port of the setting's online game.
  • Whateley Universe: The school for the supernaturally enhanced, known as Whateley Academy, is a neutral school, meaning it hires heroes, villains, and everyone in between.
    • The Imp, a successful art thief, is hired to be an art teacher.
    • Lady Hydra, a Northern European supervillainess of the 1950s was also hired and is teaching during Gen 1.
    • Wildhammer (Lilian Dennon) was an anti-corporate terrorist prior to becoming one of the Martial Arts instructors.
    • Hot Rod (Melvin Donner) was a bank robber, mob enforcer, and smuggler, before making a deal to get out prison by becoming one of the Auto Shop and Combat Driving instructors.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: Caitlyn forges orders to free Vi to get her help at solving the criminal conspiracy she's working on. She initially scoffs at Vi's offer but when Vi casually reveals Silco's name as the underworld Don when Caitlyn only knew him as a wealthy industrialist, she realizes Vi's parting sting that Caitlyn wouldn't survive Zaun without insider help is right.
  • In two episodes of Justice League, the League faces off against Knight Templar counterparts called the Justice Lords who are willing to kill. In need of a counter-tactic that the Lords don't also have and can't replicate, they recruit Lex Luthor.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode Twilights Kingdom Part 1, Princess Celestia sends Discord to track down the magic-stealing Lord Tirek. This backfires badly once Tirek coaxes Discord into returning to his villainous roots.
  • Tangled: The Series: Eugene puts his skills as a former thief to use by getting a job as a consultant for the Royal Guards.
  • Sgt Hatred on The Venture Bros. went from being part of the Guild of Calamitous Intent to being the brothers' bodyguard.
  • DA Sinclair in Invincible (2021) was a Mad Scientist college student who kidnapped his classmates and turned them into cyborg super soldiers. After seeing how much trouble they gave Invincible, GDA Director Cecil brings him on to make them undead cyborgs in the hopes of stopping Invincible's father Omni-Man. However, Cecil makes it clear that he's only there out of necessity and states he feels dirty just talking to him.
  • Elena of Avalor: In "The Lightning Warrior", because the titular Lightning Warrior cannot be released by anyone other than malvagos, Elena recruits Victor and Carla and, in exchange for their help, offers to transfer them from the castle's dungeons to Soledad Island.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Former cat burglar Viper ends up reforming after her first meeting with Jackie and Jade, becoming a security consultant. Her former skills come in handy, especially during Jackie's encounter with the superpowered thief Origami.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Great Louse Detective," after an unknown assailant makes an attempt on Homer's life, Sideshow Bob is conditionally freed from prison to help the Simpson family find the would-be murderer on the promise of his choice of role in the prison musical. While he continues to nurse his mortal grudge against Bart and winds up escaping before he can be imprisoned again, he does help Homer as intended and successfully brings the other criminal to justice.
    • Principal Skinner has been known to recruit noted hellraiser Bart Simpson against the rest of the school's ne'er-do-wells. In "Separate Vocations" Bart temporarily gains the Yellow Sash of Power by busting petty criminals around the school, while 24 parody "24 Minutes" sees him being pulled from detention to aid an all-hands-on-deck effort to prevent bully trio Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney from ruining the school bake sale.

    Real Life 
  • The police also sometimes hires them for training the recruits. This tends to only be the case with non-violent criminals, however - thieves, pickpockets, burglars, and frauds.
  • During the age of piracy, many governments would hire privateers, pirates who agreed to attack ships that belonged to rival countries and give their sponsors a cut of their loot. Queen Elizabeth I was noted for her high opinion of privateering, famously employing an entire military branch of pirates known as the "Sea Dogs" to harass Spanish vessels. The most famous Sea Dog was Francis Drake, who was knighted by Elizabeth for his actions and was made a vice admiral in the English fleet.
  • Many large corporations used to hire criminal hackers to try to break their systems and advise them on how to beef up security. This has been taken to its logical conclusion and these days so-called white-hat hackers hire themselves out to find vulnerabilities in computer security and never actually break the law or hack maliciously.
  • During World War II the OSS obtained a number of skilled criminals from prisons to train its agents for specialty skills; most agencies maintain a number of state-sponsored safecrackers, pickpockets, etc. Of course, when you think about it, those criminals recruited were the criminals that got caught, but they presumably had to make do.
    • One notable agent was Eddie Chapman, a fraud, thief, safecracker, and all-around cad. He was doing a stint in one of the Channel Islands during the Nazi takeover of that area, before being transferred to Paris, and was able to negotiate his way into being recruited by the Abwehr as a Nazi agent. When they deployed him into Britain, Chapman immediately volunteered himself to MI 5 to act as a double agent. It worked out beautifully, that is until it came close to the closing of the European front. Chapman started becoming indiscreet and started rekindling connections with criminal elements, so MI 5 fired him and he went back to civilian life.
  • After World War II the Allies started a program designated "Operation: Paperclip" where they acquired noted German scientists and military experts, many of them Nazis and acknowledged war criminals. Many were secretly removed from prison to assist whatever government that wanted to use their skills, having their sentences commuted and being protected from Nazi hunters. While evidentially controversial, part of the impetus was that in the chaos of the end of the war someone was bound to recruit them, so might as well be on their side. A report in 2014 revealed that the US employed over a thousand Nazis after the war. Some of the major figures of NASA during the space race were recruited as part of this program.
  • The Auxiliary Units deliberately recruited known poachers on the basis that they'd had plenty of practice at sneaking around the countryside in the dark.
  • Averted by casinos (in the US, at least), which DO NOT hire convicted cheaters to catch cheaters.
  • Snitches are 'hired' by wardens and policemen to rat on their underground friends, whether for creature comforts or being left to their menial thievery.
  • According to one CNN documentary, convicted drug dealer Jimmy Keene was recruited by the police to befriend convicted kidnapper Larry Hall and get him to admit to a string of serial killings that police had been unable to solve on their own, with Keene getting a reduced sentence out of the deal.
  • Same as how medical shows hire doctors and military shows hire former service personnel, crime shows have been known to hire former criminals as consultants on an ongoing basis, to advise the actors and writers and make sure they get the details right.
  • The MMORPG RuneScape has often had problem with players using bots, and Jagex (the company that made the game) eventually made a major anti-bot update in November 2011. However, someone known as "Jacmob" was still able to make a bot that worked with the game. In response, Jagex offered him a job; he is now working on anti-cheat technology for the company.
  • Played somewhat straight with some sims in Second Life. There are a few sims that have been set up and they invite Griefers to try and crash the sim. If someone manages to do it, they are asked how they did that.
  • Reformed thieves and conmen are invaluable to people designing security systems.
  • Eugène Vidocq who founded the Sûreté Nationale, and is regarded as the father of modern criminology.
  • Frank Abagnale Jr., the inspiration for the film Catch Me If You Can mentioned above, is in fact a Real Life convicted forger and con man who was hired by the FBI after his arrest to advise them on fraud prevention. He also runs an independent firm as a financial security consultant.
  • Edith Garrud began her career as a martial artist as a bodyguard and close-combat instructor for the more militant wings of the suffragist movement. After the movement succeeded in its goals and disbanded, she was headhunted by her old nemesis, the London Metropolitan Police, who, somewhat embarrassed over their finest having had their asses kicked by Garrud on a routine basis, asked her to spearhead their close-combat training program.
  • For undercover operations, the FBI has been tending to shift away from using their own agents to recruiting convicted criminals (in exchange for reduced sentences) and those in pre-trial detention (in exchange for dropped charges).
  • Subverted with Onel de Guzman, the author behind the infamous ILOVEYOU virus. Popular rumour in the Philippines has it that de Guzman was hired either by Microsoft or international government agencies for his hacking skills, but it was revealed in 2020 that an investigative journalist found de Guzman working at a mobile phone repair stall in Manila, a stark contrast to the arguably high-profile jobs supposedly offered to him.


Video Example(s):


Jason Rake

After capturing the underwater pirate captain Jason Rake, the duplicitous Admiral Lancaster presses him into his service.

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Main / RecruitingTheCriminal

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