For about as long as I’ve been in the security industry, the vast majority of the people I’ve worked with have had zero handcuff training, despite being authorized by their agency to carry them. This is a worrying trend, and I’m writing this with the primary intention of spurring you to pursue the necessary training if you don’t have it. It’s not just your responsibility to the public, it’s also for yourself as well– you’d be surprised how many ways these pesky things can get you in trouble.
Don’t get me wrong though– I love my handcuffs. My cuffs are probably the most-used item on my duty belt, right up there with my keys. There is definitely a time and place to use them; however, it is important you not only know when and where to use them, but how.
The next few points are a few thoughts and gripes that I’ve collected over the years I’ve spent in this field. If you’re a working professional you probably can relate to most, if not all, of them.
In no particular order…
Do you know what double-locking is? If you do, you’re way ahead of the game. In the past six years, I have worked with dozens of personnel and shockingly enough, only a handful were familiar with this function and its importance.
The double lock is a feature found on every standard pair of professional handcuffs. If the pair you’re looking at doesn’t have one, don’t purchase them no matter how cheap or cool they may be.
A double lock works as a safety feature for handcuffs. It also reduces your liability and helps keep the cuffed suspect safe. It appears in many forms, but is usually some sort of pin, switch or latch accessible only with the reverse (pin) side of a standard handcuff key.
Once activated, a double-locked set of cuffs will not tighten any more. This means once you have properly handcuffed your subject, they can wriggle around and fidget their wrists all they want and the chances that they will over-tighten the cuffs on themselves are drastically reduced.
Non-Professional or Non-Standard Cuffs:
You’d be surprised at the number of security personnel I’ve come across using cheap (and oftentimes dangerous) handcuffs.
With handcuffs, you will get what you pay for. With that in mind, do not cheap out for a pair from eBay, a souvenir stand or a kinky sex shop. Believe it or not, I have worked with actual personnel that actually purchased their cuffs from all three of those places.
These cuffs are usually manufactured overseas with cheap alloys, often with no double lock function and may not even accept a universal handcuff key. There is nothing more embarrassing than turning a suspect over to a police officer to switch your cuffs out for their own, only for them to find that their keys don’t fit your cuffs. It gets even more embarrassing when fire and rescue has to be called out to cut the cuffs off if you lose the non-standard keys they came with.
The problems are compounded when you take into account that some of these cheap cuffs are prone to corrosion, rust, and may even have sharp/rough edges that cut into your hands and the wrists of the suspect. Even if you don’t get hurt using them, you still leave yourself vulnerable to a negligence lawsuit if your suspect does.
A good pair of cuffs will cost you anywhere from $30-50 and can withstand a fair amount of abuse. The best restraint manufacturers in my opinion (presented in no particular order) are:
- Smith and Wesson
I’ve used cuffs manufactured by all three of these companies and can attest to their quality. Well-maintained handcuffs will give you years of service and are worth the investment to any true security professional.
Deployment Prior to Suspect P.O.D.:
A big no-no I’ve observed quite often is the security guard that attempts to apply handcuffs too soon.
There is an art to recognizing when it is appropriate to restrain a suspect, especially if they are resistant. The general rule of thumb is to always first achieve a Position Of Disadvantage, or P.O.D. I will write more about P.O.D. in a future article.
Achieving a P.O.D. can be as simple as pulling a somewhat compliant suspect off-balance prior to applying cuffs. Or it can be as complex as untangling your limbs from the suspect’s during a takedown before transitioning to your cuffs.
Always remember two things:
- Handcuffs require one hand to grip properly, two hands to properly apply (in most instances).
- If a suspect is able to break free during the arrest and has a single cuff secured around his/her wrist, the free cuff becomes an improvised impact/slashing weapon.
With these points in mind, it will be obvious why the P.O.D. is so important prior to the deployment and application of restraints.
Here is the bottom line to handcuffing:
An amateur guard will fight a suspect to get the cuffs on.
A professional, however, will fight to subdue a suspect until there is little-to-zero resistance. Then the cuffs go on.
Take an empty plastic water bottle (cap off) and squeeze it in your hand. Feel how easily it collapses beneath the weight of your fingers? That is ideally how smooth you want your cuffs to function when you work the swing-through.
If you have a good set of handcuffs, regardless of whether they were issued to you or self-purchased, it is your responsibility to keep them maintained.
Inspect them regularly for signs of wear or damage, check for dirt or debris that may prevent the cuffs from functioning properly. Test the double lock and swing-through function (compare it to the water bottle experiment) for smoothness. And of course, oil all the moving parts so they stay moving.
Once again, this article isn’t meant to be a replacement for appropriate professional training. Instead, I hope if you’ve made it this far and you’ve been surprised by what you’ve learned that you seek out the training for your own benefit. The class will not be a waste of time or money and will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
I’d like to end this entry with a few pointers for the security personnel that are seeking to improve themselves:
- If your agency requires you to carry and/or issues you handcuffs, always insist on obtaining the relevant training. If the agency does not provide you or your teammates with this training, be hesitant about keeping your current employment.
- As soon as possible after applying cuffs on a suspect, always check for proper fit, then double-lock. Have a witness present if possible so there is no question that the proper steps were taken to ensure their safety.
- Err on the side of caution– when possible, call the police to have a handcuffed suspect released. If you can help it, avoid un-cuffing and releasing a suspect without police assistance. It could expose you to false imprisonment or excessive force allegations, depending on your local laws.
- Never reach for or deploy your handcuffs until you have the suspect in a P.O.D., regardless of their compliance level. Premature deployment can escalate a situation into an unnecessary physical altercation and may be considered excessive or aggressive behavior (on your part) in some cases.
- Never threaten a suspect with handcuffs in any way. If you do it verbally, you’ve just tipped your hand and they are one step ahead of you and may attempt to flee or resist. If you do it physically with your cuffs in hand (and we all know of at least one meat-head that loves to pull the cuffs out in a macho manner), you’ve once again telegraphed your intent. If they fight, you’ll quickly find out that your cuffs don’t make a very practical self-defense tool and severely limit your ability to manipulate their limbs. If they run, you’ll be chasing with one hand tied up.
- Always keep at least one handcuff key concealed on your person, accessible from your rear, in case of emergencies. Practice retrieving it without looking.
Finally, I know that with all the vast options, makes and models of handcuffs out there, it can be hard to decide what gear you need to purchase (if your agency allows or requires you to do so).
In a future entry, I will be discussing my own set up and others that may work for you.
Until then, stay safe out there.