Remembering the Basics

Feb. 11, 2022
No matter how much technology your agency embraces and leverages, reality is that no computer hardware or software tool has ever put handcuffs on a suspect.

Today’s world is complicated. There’s no doubt about that. All too often, “doing the right thing” can be so complicated as to be argued ad nauseum. No matter what we do, the mainstream media can find a way to take umbrage with it; sensationalize it; edit it so it shows only a negative event. Because of that, we spend hours upon hours developing, reviewing and rewriting policy. We spend days in training, trying to cover every conceivable topic that might save our agencies liability dollars, either in insurance premiums or civil settlements after the fact. For all that, the law enforcement professional’s job, at its core, is the same: serve the public, enforce the law, arrest the bad guys.

No matter how much technology your agency embraces and leverages, the reality is that no computer hardware or software tool has ever put handcuffs on a suspect. That technology is awesome at helping us find suspects, reasonable suspicion, probable cause and more. It’s great at advising us of when the risk might be higher than we were originally aware of. It still has never put a pair of handcuffs on a suspect. Those officers, troopers, deputies, constables and more have to do that. Suspects all too often have to be fought into handcuffs and then searched and secured. A lot of the skills that are taught in the academy are practiced mostly through practical use in the course of doing the job and rarely practiced in settings where they can be refined or developed. In the remainder of this article, we’re going to look at what some of those seemingly never changing basic skills are and how we ought to maintain them.

Examining body language

While this is something officers do on a regular basis as they interact with suspects, citizens and known criminals, it still should be practiced and refined. In today’s world of hipster-tight slim-fit everything, the ability to see shapes in pockets and identify improper bulges in clothing is actually easier than it used to be. Do you ever practice this? Even off duty, without being weird about it, do you look to see if you can tell where your law enforcement friends are carrying their weapons? “Concealed carry” all too often isn’t, but it should be. Bad guys can do it fairly well if they’re wearing baggy clothing (don’t most of them?) but it’s worth practicing to see if you can, simply by looking at someone, identify where they are carrying their gun. And what about other weapons? Almost every officer carries a knife, even off duty, and many carry a flashlight as well. Can you see all that? Or is it all hidden?

Seeing bulges or profiles of the items isn’t the only way to identify that someone has them either. There are many behaviors that give away when a person is carrying a weapon and where:

  • The touch to insure that it’s there, still secure.
  • The tug down on the hem of a shirt to make sure the weapon and holster are still covered.
  • The clip from the knife that is inevitably hanging out of the pocket.
  • The right handed person who does things with their left hand so their weapon hand stays free.

And others…

Do you practice seeing these? You should.


Handcuffing is usually done on one of two kinds of suspect: The 100% compliant suspect or the “I’ll kill you before you get me in those handcuffs” suspect. Unfortunately, until you actually put your hands on them, you can never be sure which you’re dealing with. That’s why you should practice both on a regular basis. Now admittedly, you can easily practice handcuffing a compliant suspect. But practicing fighting someone into handcuffs requires mats, controls, expendable uniforms and more. Still, it should be practiced more often than whenever your agency schedules you for defensive tactics training. At its most basic, handcuffing is simple: Put the suspect’s wrists in the cuffs, with the backs of their hands facing each other and the handcuff keyholes faced away from the suspect’s hands. Then double lock the cuffs after insuring a proper snug fit. There are several structured methods for putting handcuffs on a person this way and with practice, without resistance, it can be done very quickly. That said, if you’re fighting a suspect into handcuffs, you usually settle for getting them on; hand position is optional along with keyhole placement. Double locking should still always be mandatory.


“Systematic and methodical” is a good way of describing how every one of your searches should be. There is NEVER a rush. There is only professional thoroughness. What are you searching for? If they’re under arrest, then you’re searching for anything that isn’t part of them. If you are searching them in the field just to get them “cleared” before you put them into any secure setting, then you’re looking for anything they might use to hurt you or escape your custody. Because you can’t read minds, that should be the same thing as the arrested search: anything not attached to them. You never know what they can use or how to get away. If it’s not attached or can be used as a weapon, against you or against themselves, take it. Log it. Keep that inventory. It can always be returned.

Searches should be, as said above, systematic and methodical. Head to toe, one side and then the other. It doesn’t matter if you always do right side and then left side, or the reverse. But you should do it the same all the time every time. Head to toe, one side and then the other. Everything comes out of their pockets and clothing. Anything can be used as a weapon if their imagination and determination are good enough. If a person is being arrested, always handcuff before searching. Always search a suspect anytime custody changes hands. Don’t get offended when someone does this as they take a suspect from you. You should be doing the same in reverse. It protects everyone and is simply professional behavior.

These are the basics. When was the last time you practiced them? Get with your patrol partner or squad members. Make it a point of practicing the things no computer can do. Maintain your mastery of the basic skills.

About the Author

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret), Editorial Director | Editorial Director

Lt. Frank Borelli is the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20+ years of writing and editing experience in addition to 40 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team.

Frank has had numerous books published which are available on,, and other major retail outlets.

If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email at [email protected].

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