Handcuffs: What and How to Carry For Security Work

Photo credit: Doug Kline
An example of how not to carry and use your handcuffs. Photo credit: Doug Kline, Anime Expo 2011

I promised a couple posts back that I would explore handcuffs more in-depth.  My previous article explored common mistakes most security personnel make when purchasing and using cuffs, however in this article I will focus more on what I carry, how I carry it, and why.

First, let’s cover some general information.

Selecting your cuffs:

There are three common types of handcuffs available on the market.  They are:

Photo credit: Campco Photos
Standard chain handcuffs. Photo credit: Campco Photos


The most common type of handcuff available, these are the ones you’ll see most often.  They are two metal bracelets joined by a short chain, no more than three or four inches apart.

  • Pros: Easier to apply to a resistant subject
  • Cons: Offers less control after application (subject has great flexibility of movement)

Photo credit: Campco Photos
Standard hinged handcuffs. Photo credit: Campco Photos


These are the second most popular handcuffs you’ll find.  Similar to chained handcuffs, the center portion of these restraints are hinged, and can only be manipulated along those hinges (i.e. folded in half).

  • Pros: Offers increased control of a subject after proper application
  • Cons: More difficult to apply to a resistant subject

Photo credit: Campco Photos
Disposable flexible plastic cuffs. Photo credit: Campco Photos


Available in a wide variety of designs, these single-use cuffs are made from cheap materials, most often plastic (although some models use rubber, string or even velcro).

  • Pros: Extremely portable, lightweight, easy to carry and conceal
  • Cons: Extremely difficult to apply to a resistant subject and offers minimal post-arrest control

Out of the three types of cuffs described, I highly recommend using just standard chain cuffs.  Hinged cuffs will offer you more control over a suspect, yes, but if he or she is resisting so enthusiastically that even after applying chain handcuffs you cannot keep them somewhat subdued, you’re probably doing something horribly wrong and should call the police back (you did contact the police right?) and ask them to please hurry.

Never make disposable restraints your primary carry (or only choice of restraints for that matter) unless you have absolutely no other choice.

Disposable restraints are best applied with the assistance of no less than three personnel present for every one subject that needs to be cuffed.  Because of the “slip-through” designs of disposable cuffs, they are extremely hard to apply on someone who is fighting back unless you have sufficient help to hold the arms in place for application.

This is why you will often see only crowd control personnel (and riot police) carrying flex cuffs– they are anticipating a large amount of arrests and have sufficient personnel on available to help apply the restraints.

As I mentioned in that previous article, the top three handcuff manufacturers (in my experience) are:

  • Smith and Wesson
  • ASP
  • Peerless

However, no matter what brand or style restraints you select, always make sure they:

  • Can be double-locked
  • Accept all standard handcuff keys
  • Have minimal exposed sharp edges

Optional, but nice:

Zak Tools
A handcuff key extender with a standard-issued key next to it for comparison. Photo credit: Zak Tools

Your brand new set of cuffs will undoubtedly come with one or two standard keys, which is nice.  However, if you wish to go the extra mile (and you always should), pick up an extended handcuff key.  These come in a variety of shapes and designs (often resembling a pen), but all ultimately function the same way by allowing you extra control and leverage when manipulating the keyholes/double-locks.  Some have rings integrated into their designs so they can be carried on a set of keys.

You’ll quickly see how much easier it is to double lock and/or adjust cuffs with an extended key after suffering through the motions using the dinky standard-issue ones.  The extended keys clip to your belt or pocket easily, and with a decent model selling for around $5-25, there is no excuse to not have one.

The dinky keys, however, make great back-ups for your key rings, or tucked away somewhere.  You should always have at least one extra key concealed on your person in case of emergencies.

Photo credit: Fritz Jörn
Bottom-loaded handcuff holder. Photo credit: Fritz Jörn

You’ll ideally want to get some sort of case or pouch to hold your handcuffs.  While a good set of cuffs will stand up to plenty of wear and tear, cases offer additional protection and speed their deployment.

There are many different styles and iterations of handcuff holders available on the market, but essentially they all function the same.  You may wish to purchase a case manufactured by a reputable company (or OEM if the cuffs are of a proprietary design) to ensure quality and proper fit.

What I carry:

Note: Please know that I have no affiliations with ASP and that I am not being paid to endorse them.  If I recommend them, it’s because I use and trust their equipment.

The best handcuffs (in my opinion) are manufactured by ASP (Armament, Systems and Procedures) Inc.  I currently use the chain models and I swear by these things.  If you compare these cuffs to just about every other pair of similar restraints on the market, you might just agree with me when I say these are the gold standard in the restraint category:

Photo credit: ASP Inc.
ASP Chain Handcuffs. Photo credit: ASP Inc.

ASP’s proprietary handcuff design is extremely well-thought out.  There are virtually no sharp edges (even the bow teeth are somehow rounded), and the double-lock function is easy to manipulate with an integrated visual reminder to double-lock your cuffs.  The keyholes and double lock can be accessed from either side of the cuffs as well.  And at under 10 ounces, these are some of the lightest, yet toughest cuffs I’ve ever used.  On a typical duty day, I carry two sets on my person.

How I carry:

One of the downsides to the ASP cuffs is that they are slightly larger than a standard sized set of cuffs.  This is due to the polymer overlay (the black portion of the cuffs pictured above), which is actually molded over the steel, and allows for a more secure grip and comfortable fit on the restrained subject.

Photo credit: ASP Inc.
The ASP Federal Handcuff Case (smooth leather finish). Photo credit: ASP Inc.

I carry my cuffs in the ASP Federal Case.  The one pictured above is leather, however the one I use is made of ballistic nylon, which is much more durable and lighter.  I prefer open-top handcuff holders due to their ease of deployment and rapid presentation.

A bonus to all ASP handcuff cases is the hidden pocket on the back, which allows you to conceal a spare key.  This is extremely handy to have.

Side-note: Before my current set up, I used standard chained cuffs manufactured by Smith and Wesson.  I carried them in an open-top Blackhawk! molded cordura handcuff case.  It was an excellent fit and if you can’t spring for the high-end toys (ASP can be pricey), I recommend this option as well.

Where I carry (and why):

With the belt buckle denoting the 12 o’clock position, I carry both pairs of cuffs on my duty belt in their holders at the 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions (I’m right-handed).  This is what works for me, you’ll want to experiment and see what works for you.

My current configuration denotes the set of cuffs positioned at 5 o’clock as my primary set, with the set at 1 o’clock acting as my back up set.  The reason I have them positioned where they are is so that in an altercation, the back up set of cuffs at 1 o’clock can be reached by either hand once I place the suspect in a Position Of Disadvantage (P.O.D).  If a suspect is compliant, but still needs to be cuffed, I will go for the 5 o’clock-positioned cuffs with my strong hand.

Avoid positioning your cuffs in a manner that prevents you from reaching a set of cuffs if you’re laying prone (flat on your stomach) or on your back.  Additionally, be mindful of the proximity of your cuffs to your spine.

It is generally bad practice to wear any hard equipment near the small of your back at the 6 o’clock position.  If you become involved in a physical altercation and you get knocked onto your back, at best it will hurt and maybe take a little bit of fight out of you, and at worst you may suffer a debilitating spinal injury if you impact your equipment just right.


Even the best set of cuffs can fail without proper maintenance. This is not something you want, especially during a critical incident. This is why it’s always a good idea to carry at least two pairs of restraints on your person if you can– if one fails or isn’t functioning properly, you have a back-up set ready.

Of course, it’s irrelevant how many pairs of cuffs you carry with you if they all function poorly.

The following is pertaining to standard handcuffs and does not apply to other types of restraints.

At least once per day (or more often depending on your usage), you should:

  • Cycle the cuffs by pushing the swinging bars through several times to ensure the teeth are ratcheting properly
  • Inspect the cuffs for signs of wear, fatigue or exposed sharp edges
  • Ensure all moving parts are free of dirt, grime and other foreign matter, including the keyholes
  • Test the lock and double-lock mechanisms with a key to ensure everything functions properly

At least once per month (or again, more often depending on your usage), you should:

  • Use an old (dry) toothbrush or similar tool to clean out accumulated dirt and other obstructions
  • Lubricate all moving parts, including the keyholes
  • Sanitize the entire set with rubbing alcohol or similar disinfectant.

That last point is an important one– sanitation. From a common-sense standpoint, it’s a good idea to keep anything you’re carrying on your person as clean as possible.

But what most folks don’t consider is the fact that failure to sanitize your handcuffs can expose you to liability. 

If you’ve been in the industry for any amount of time, especially in medium-to-high threat environments, you know that often times the people you arrest won’t be paradigms of hygiene.  Quite the opposite in fact– they may have open bleeding sores, scabies, bulbous lumps oozing pus, the list goes on.

If you slap your cuffs on these individuals, those cuffs instantly become biohazards and you’d better clean them before you use them again. If the next person you use those cuffs on catches a blood-borne pathogen or other nasty malady, you could be looking at a negligence lawsuit.

In fact, after each usage of your cuffs, you should always:

  • Sanitize them as described above (some agencies go so far as to make an autoclave ultrasonic machine available to their personnel for this very purpose)
  • Conduct all mechanism tests and check for malfunctions

As high-quality as a pair of handcuffs may be, they are still pieces of equipment, and all equipment is vulnerable to failure.

Some handcuffs, for instance, can have their double-locks engaged if dropped hard enough. I’ve personally experienced this.

If you are unfortunate enough to attempt to restrain someone with a pair of already-double-locked handcuffs, the force of the bow strike is more than enough to shatter their wrist or forearm bone. And once again, you are exposed to liability.

Further Information:

Thanks for sticking with me through this pretty-long article. I hope it educated you in a way I wish I’d have been in my earlier years.

Below you’ll find links to all the equipment I recommended in this article.  In the interest of transparency, I wish to inform you that the links below are Amazon referrals– if you make a purchase through them, a percentage of your sale will go to keeping this site running and fresh content coming.

It costs you nothing and all the prices listed (at the time of this writing) are well below MSRP.  Thank you for your support.

My current load-out:

For maintenance:

  • Hoppe’s 9 Gun Oil/Lubricant
    • I dislike lubricating my handcuffs with WD-40, mostly because I don’t like the black greasy feeling they leave behind.  It is, however, officially recommended by Peerless, so you may consider that as another option.

My previous load-out (same key listed above):

Items I’ve seen/heard other cops and security personnel swear by (I have no experience with these but include them for the sake of completion):

Stay safe out there.

Why Are You Fighting? (How Not to Get in Trouble)

Photo credit: Aislinn Ritchie
If you look like this during a physical altercation, you might consider another line of work. (Photo credit: Aislinn Ritchie via Flickr)

One of the distinct traits that separates incompetent security personnel from the professionals is their intent during a physical altercation.

Security personnel should never, under any circumstances, fight with the intention of deliberately harming a suspect.  In fact, while I’m at it, no security personnel should ever start or become embroiled in a physical altercation to:

  • Teach the suspect “a lesson”
  • Release anger
  • Prove their “worth” or mettle

In fact, the word “fight’ is used here a bit erroneously.  The suspect may be fighting you, but you should be focusing on the following, in order of importance:

  • Protecting yourself
  • Protecting those around you
  • Subduing the suspect

That’s it.  Any physical action you take with any other intention is most likely excessive, unnecessary, or downright criminal.  I have worked with many security personnel who had zero arrest training, but stuck with the job because they thought it gave them the right to hurt people they didn’t approve of with impunity.  If you ever find yourself working with someone like this, avoid them at all costs.  They will end up dragging you down with them eventually.  At best, you’ll get fired.  At worst, you may be criminally charged.

I’ve been in plenty of scuffles, enough to have learned the hard way– the longer a fight goes on, the more likely someone will get hurt.  That someone could be you.  You may not care about the suspect getting injured, but you should care what sort of options injuries will make available to him/her, because in today’s litigious society, even a legitimate arrest with no serious injuries can garner attention and result in a civil lawsuit.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

From ABC7’s Eileen Frere on 07-08-15:

In a statement, Knott’s Berry Farm officials say while a security officer was investigating [a] theft Reedburg “became verbally abusive and was asked to leave the park. [Reedburg] refused to leave and then physically assaulted several of our security staff members, which led to an arrest made by the Buena Park Police Department. We take matters of this nature very seriously.”

Reedburg insists he didn’t touch anyone and that staff members never asked him to leave the park. When Eyewitness News asked Reedburg if he had been arrested, he replied “no comment.”

In this instance , the personnel involved were smart enough to document everything, probably have video evidence of some sort and the support of an official police report detailing the ultimate arrest of the suspect, all of which will probably be enough to get any lawsuit he brings against the security team dismissed.  Here’s a raw video of the incident (via YouTube, taken from ABC7):

Note several things seen here:

  • The security team is working to control the limbs of the suspect in order to subdue him.  There are no strikes involved.
  • Although this incident can indeed be considered a fight, the security team is not using force in a non-subduing capacity.
  • Despite the fight starting over the suspect allegedly physically assaulting a security staff member, it is clear that there is no intent to deliberately injure the suspect or to extract “retribution.”
  • The security team shows great restraint in the use of force and utilizes only the sufficient amount of force needed to subdue and restrain the suspect.
  • One of the suspect’s wrists has been cuffed prematurely (prior to placing the suspect in a P.O.D.), a no-no I cover in this article.  With less personnel, the cuff may have become an improvised weapon in the hands of an already-combative subject.

As this site develops and I get more content up, there will be plenty of other articles on my opinions of use-of-force.  However, from my experience, there are only two situations in which any security agent should ever use force to take a suspect into custody:

  1. Someone has hurt or is hurting you.
  2. Someone has hurt or is hurting someone else.

During the incident, your focus should be to restrain, not injure. Situations that would not validate a use of force include:

  • Theft of property without violence
  • Damage to property
  • Verbal threats
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Any non-violent misdemeanor

Property can be replaced– let it go.  Money can be replaced– let it go.  People cannot get un-injured or un-hurt easily.  If you’re going to use force, be sure you can justify it.

Your Handcuffs Will Get You in Trouble

Image courtesy of freeimages.com
When was the last time you inspected your cuffs?

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:

  • Peerless
  • ASP
  • 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.