Handcuffing Survival

Statistics indicate roughly 70 percent of suspects resist arrest after the first handcuff is applied. Indeed, one of my old training officers bears the scars on his cheek from the ratchets of a loose single strand, evidence of a female who decided she didn t want to go to jail that day.

Of all the force topics we receive recurring or in-service training on, handcuffing probably gets the least attention. And when you think about it, it s the one force application we perform almost routinely if you ll permit the use of the r-word in this context. Firearms in-service training is conducted quarterly in just about every agency. Defensive tactics, OC, Taser and baton in-services are also conducted once or twice annually in most departments. But after basic academy graduation, most officers are lucky to get any advanced or in-service training on tactical handcuffing unless they seek it on their own.

Retraining? Why?

Why is this very important tactical skill ignored after basic recruit school? Probably because most people incorrectly think it isn t necessary. Most officers, more than a few administrators and, sadly, even a few police trainers, don t feel retraining in handcuffing is needed after the academy. After all, what s so hard about putting handcuffs on somebody? Nothing, unless the suspect doesn t want to be handcuffed, or worse, they decide they don t want to be cuffed after the first cuff is already on. However, if a review of the last six months of subject management (use of force) reports in your agency show officers are resorting to higher levels of force (or experiencing a significant amount of officer or subject injury) during the handcuffing process, that might help convince the powers that be that a class on tactical handcuffing makes sense.

Other reasons: It s a pain in the ass, and painful, too. Well, it doesn t have to be either. Several companies make training handcuffs. ZAK Tools, for example, makes a reasonably priced metal handcuff with permanent knurled brass twist knobs in place of the keyholes. Pacific Transducer Corporation (PTC) makes a similar metal training handcuff with a release button that slides to open the handcuff. Hiatt-Thompson Corp. makes a device called a SpeedKey and priced under $10. The SpeedKey is a magnetic brass twist knob that fits right over the existing key hole of your duty cuffs that makes tactical handcuff training a breeze. These training cuffs and/or devices make daisy-chain drills real easy, and also save training time. Just remember to finish up the class with a key drill, too. Regarding the pain issue: Again, it doesn t have to be painful. Some elastic gauze wrap and a little adhesive tape on the wrists before class starts, and you ll have a happy group of motivated students.

Reason 4: There s a lack of qualified instructors or supporting audio-visual material. For the most part, any certified defensive-tactics instructor can probably conduct a pretty good in-service on handcuffing. But I would strongly encourage any instructor interested in doing so to take an advanced class on tactical handcuffing from a reputable restraint-systems instructor first. They will help you get a good thorough lesson plan prepared that will focus on the issues and help you make the most of your time. There are a lot of good video clips and photographs out there, too, that show some of the errors officers make during handcuffing, and a good restraint-systems instructor can point you in that direction, too. Probably the most infamous is a photograph of murder suspect Hank Carr. This May 1998 incident involved two Tampa (Fla.) Police Department homicide detectives. Murder suspect Carr, age 30, is seen walking cuffed with his hands in front of him, no belly chains or leg irons, behind one of the detectives. Moments after the photograph was taken, Carr, after being placed into one of the detective s squad cars, slipped out of one or both of his cuffs, grabbed the driver officer s handgun and fatally shot both of them with it. There is extensive video of this incident as well.

Last, officers rely on equipment solutions to training problems: Hey, we ve got belly chains, leg irons, flex cuffs and hinged handcuffs we don t need a class on handcuffing. The truth is, those are all great tools. But none of them take the place of a good in-service class on tactical handcuffing. Officers need to learn a systematic way to put on and take off handcuffs so they do it the same way every time, every subject, every arrest. The rules? All subjects are approached from the rear. Cooperative suspects can remain standing. No or maybe people belong on the ground.


What are some of the mistakes officers make when applying handcuffs, and where are those mistakes made? First and foremost, not handcuffing before searching is, without a doubt, the biggest tactical error. If you re justified in searching the suspect, you re probably justified in handcuffing them first.

Next, not cuffing from a position of advantage. Get and keep the suspect off balance, get the cuffs on as quickly as possible, and never, ever let go of the first cuff after you ve got it on the suspect s wrist.

Third, not cuffing with the hands behind the back. The only exception to this rule I can think of is a documented injury. Even King Kong s illegitimate son can be cuffed behind his back with two sets of cuffs. Bottom line: There s always a way to handcuff big or muscular people. However, if you ve got a documented case of a serious shoulder injury, you can opt for the hands-in-front rule if you can secure the hands with a belly chain or belt. But remember, search thoroughly.

Last, worrying too much about key holes in or key holes out. Probably more important than which way the key holes are facing is getting the palms out, the back of the hands together and getting the cuffs double-locked.

Taking Them Off

Finally, uncuffing. The second biggest error next to not handcuffing before searching? Relaxing too soon when taking the cuffs off. Never relax your control on a suspect until they are safely in the custody of the jail staff or turned over to the lock-up officers. And remember, never let go of that first cuff that you ve taken off until the uncuffing procedure is complete.

Stay safe.

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