Proper handcuff grip on chain
Photo credit: John Wills
Proper application of first cuff
Photo credit: John Wills
Proper application of second cuff
Photo credit: John Wills
If I watch another episode of COPS and see officers casually placing handcuffs on someone, I think my head is going to explode! I'm certain that these officers have undergone basic handcuffing class during their academy training, but my guess is that it was either so long ago, or they were so apathetic during the instruction, that the message has been lost on them. What message? Simple--controlling someone completely, and that means right from the initial contact, is a necessity in our line of work. We must totally dominate that individual's world until that point in time when we are certain that he or she poses no risk to us.
The only good that ever came from watching these potential disasters in progress was that I was able to tape these violations of handcuffing protocol to show to my defensive tactics (DT) students. If that DT class happened to consist of vets rather than trainees, most could see the dangers right away and could point out tactical errors. The problem is this: those folks that were in my class were there to learn and reinforce good handcuffing techniques. The ones that really needed the instruction were still out there making mistakes. So right now, here's my challenge to you: whenever you see a colleague not practicing sound handcuffing tactics (good positioning, commands, etc.), please take them aside, and as diplomatically as possible, let them know how they can make themselves more tactically sound. This is the PC way of telling them to "get your act together before you get yourself, or me, killed!"
Just as a hammer is one of the basic tools for a carpenter, handcuffs are the same for police officers. They are a basic tool that is used to control and restrain (they are a temporary restraining device); they can be removed as well as applied. Remember that--don't be reluctant to put the cuffs on anyone. It is simple to "unarrest" someone, but impossible to bring a cop back to life because he or she was reluctant to put cuffs on someone.
The FBI's Tony Pinizotto and Ed Davis published their research in which they described the behavioral descriptions of officers killed and assaulted. Their study, In the Line of Fire, included these characteristics of the officers: they were "laid-back," they looked for the "good" in others, they were apt to use less force than other officers in similar circumstances, they failed to follow all the rules, especially in making arrests, confronting prisoners, and waiting for backup, and they felt that they could "read" others and situations and would drop their guard as a result. Do these behaviors represent a recipe for disaster to you? I agree.
This much I know--as soon as someone recognizes or senses that he or she is about to have their freedom taken from them, that moment becomes one of the most potentially dangerous times in any confrontation. Unless you quickly, authoritatively, and adeptly get the cuffs on, you and your partner are at great risk. Once that subject is cuffed, he or she must be monitored. That set of cuffs is a temporary restraining device. The bad guys are constantly practicing ways of defeating the lock; sometimes we make it simple by not ensuring that we always double lock them. If you leave them unchecked in the back of your car, or at the station, don't be surprised if you find them with one or both cuffs off. Now be ready for the universal complaint--"Officer, these cuffs are too tight!" Good, that means that he or she won't slip out of them. We are not looking to make folks feel comfortable; that is impossible when one is wearing handcuffs. Do not fall for that line. Don't be "Mister Nice Guy" and cuff a person in front; that is inviting trouble. The only people that should be cuffed in front are those with medical conditions, i.e, late term pregnancy, etc. Everyone else gets hooked up behind the back, double locked, and maybe even flex cuffed around the belt or belt loop.
I know most of you have been taught your department's handcuffing protocol, but let me describe one simple system that works the same way whether your subject is standing, kneeling, or prone.
Keep the chain in the middle of your hand with a forceful grip to keep the chain straight. This grip is maintained until the cuffs are double locked on your subject. The double strand is facing up, and the cuffs are held in the same hand as the one on your subject that you are about to cuff. (If you are cuffing the subject's right hand, you are holding the cuffs in your right hand.) Have your subject face away from you, arms extended behind him, palms up, hands off of his back. Move to a 45 degree position of advantage, gun side back. Order him to look away from you, and then tactically move toward him. Obtain a modified wrist twist, ensuring that you do not grab that handcuff channel that God created for us. Apply some tension with that wrist twist, but not too much. We don't want to have a compliant subject become non-compliant. The point is to be firm and authoritative whenever you place your hands on any subject. As soon as you touch anyone, they will know whether you are in control or not.
Now place that single strand firmly on the handcuff channel on the wrist and force the cuff downward. It should be forceful enough so that the teeth on the single strand automatically feed into the pawl. If necessary, you may use your index finger to assist with closing the single strand. On the remaining hand, make a three finger grab (this is the same as the grip on a handshake), bend the wrist outward to avoid skin folds getting caught by the single strand. Next repeat the same procedure as you did with the first cuff that you placed on. Double lock!
As I mentioned earlier, this method works in the same manner for kneeling subjects, or those that you prone out. If using the prone position, I recommend approaching on a 45 degree angle from the front rather than from behind. This eliminates being kicked or taken down with a leg sweep by those that have had martial arts training. The beauty of this handcuffing system is that it is simple and never changes: if you are cuffing the subject's right hand, the cuffs are in your right hand, and vice-versa.
One other item that I would like to address about cuffing is this: once the cuffs are on a subject, I have seen officers escorting them to or from their police vehicle by holding them at the upper arm. If you want to control a prisoner, I recommend that you utilize the same grip on the chain that you used to apply the cuffs. If you subject gets frisky or attempts to bolt, you quickly and forcefully drive that chain straight down to the ground. Believe me, that subject will be on the ground in a heartbeat!
Last word of caution--be just as tactical when removing the handcuffs as you were when you applied them. We never know what goes on in the minds of those whose freedom we have taken away. Their anger may have built up on the ride to the station, or you may have said something that didn't sit well with them. Regardless, be tactically sound when removing the cuffs; never give the bad guys an advantage. Stay safe, brothers and sisters!