Modern law enforcement officers are without a doubt better equipped than any of their predecessors. Better firearms, less-lethal options, safer vehicles and high speed car mounted computers are all designed to assist them in performing their duties safely and efficiently. But there is one piece of equipment which has remained virtually unchanged for decades, yet is used more often than anything other than the citation pad. It is also one of the most misunderstood, and misused, tools on an officer’s belt. I am talking about handcuffs, and knowing when and how to use this simple tool can literally be a life saver.

Except for some minor design changes (and being made considerably smaller), little has changed when it comes to handcuffs since the first copper slapped them on the neighborhood hooligan. But, this simple set of rings connected by a short piece of chain continues to confuse officers as if they held the secret to time travel. Get any group of officers together, provide with a basic scenario, and then ask if handcuffs should be used. Chances are you will get a wide variety of answers – some supported with what sound like legitimate reasons and some backed up by little more than a puzzled look.  Trust me, I do this when I conduct handcuff training and see it every time.

The good news is that once you get past the misconstrued legal decisions, misstated facts heard from the last defense attorney who grilled you, and your own misunderstanding, the use of handcuffs is as simple as the design. Remember, every department will have its own policy and procedure, and you must follow your department’s guidelines, but keep these simple tips in mind and you will be a lot better off.

  1. Handcuffs restrict, they do not immobilize – Even a handcuffed suspect is dangerous and capable of fighting and fleeing. Work long enough, and you will encounter that guy or girl who can flip the cuffs to the front, pull their wrist through or take off at a sprint with their arms securely behind their back. Just imagine what would happen if this same suspect had access to a weapon.
  2. The perfect technique is the one that gets the cuffs on – Every training program has its own special method of holding the cuffs, approaching the suspect and applying the cuffs. Yes, there are methods which are better, safer and more efficient, but for the most part, these techniques are a hook to get students to adopt one program over another. Bottom line – in the field, situations rarely allows the seamless practice of any technique, and the one that works is the one that lets you get control of the suspect.
  3. Searching is a top priority – Because handcuffs only restrict movement, a suspect may still access weapons or evidence that are hidden on their person. This means that a complete and thorough search must be conducted on every suspect – no matter how they may be restrained.
  4. How to know when a suspect should be cuffed – This is one of the most misunderstood “rules” of police procedure, but also one of the easiest. If you think a suspect possess a threat, then they should be cuffed. Cuffs can come off almost as easily as they go on. Other than a bruised ego, they do not cause any physical harm, and as long as you can articulate why they were used, there should never be a problem doing so. But, not using cuffs has led to more than one unnecessary foot chase, fist fight and even shooting. Which would you rather face?

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.


Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

6 thoughts on “Handcuffs 101

  1. Ideally the cuffs should be place so the palms are facing away from each other . If the subject is unable to jump thru his/ her arms by bending his / her legs this maneuver is cancelled .

    1. Goed artikel, ik merk dat met name de jongere generatie docenten zich hier erg mee bezig houden. Tot twee jaar geleden was mijn commentaar op cotnimucamie aan de HRO dat het achterhaald was, goed om te zien dat daar nu verandering in komt!

  2. I was walking down the street the other day (while open carrying) and a cop pulls up fast and stops quick, jumps out of his car and almost runs me to the ground. Within seconds his handcuffs were in his hand and he was telling me to turn around and put my hands behind my head. I was hesitant to comply becuase I WAS DOING NOTHING WRONG. My first instinct was to go to a place my hand on my gun because I felt threatened and that my life was in danger (the same BS excuse cops use to get away with murder on regular basis), but I showed restraint and followed his fascist command. He slapped the cuffs on my wrists (leaving bruises on my wrist bones) and immediately grabbed my gun. The entire time I was calmly asking why I was being detained, to which he REFUSED to answer. After he checked my gun (full mag, empty chamber) he uncuffed me and he placed my gun on the ground as he walked back to his car. I was left feeling violated and uncertain of what was the reason for the entire incident. Maybe YOU can tell me, because when I called the local PD to report the encounter they said they “would check into it”. Yeah, I bet. I immediately went to my local gun shop and purchased 500 rounds of M855 for my AR15. You know… for peace of mind.

  3. Hello Mr. Burrel,

    I found your article to be relevant and timely. I appreciate the way you articulated item four (4). In my experience, I found handcuffing a person “early” to be an effective way to prevent and/or de-escalate many situations which led to a good day for all interested parties. On the other hand, we also know that a significant percentage of resistance starts with the application of the first ‘cuff…


    1. MRLS(06 lut 14:37) strasznie &#Å1w2;2yra8ºne„ te zdjÄ™cia. za wiele na nich nie widać. To coÅ› na nosie patrzac z boku przypomina mi litere F ale pewny nie jestem. Ciekawe czy to ich F-duct 2.0 a może F jak First albo F..k:)

  4. dr vocês cointihranos são mesmos engraçado. um palmeirense no seu blog falou em 15 milhões de torcedores do palmeiras ai o senhor logo rebateu dizendo que ele tinha exagerado no numero que nas pesquisas era menos. ai eu te pergunto os outros não podem aumentar um pouco agora vocês corinthianos podem. vocês vivem dizendo em 30 milhões as pesqiusas não mostram isso. se o senhor não quer que nimguem exagere então de o exemplo primeiro. falem a verdade não aumente 5 milhões de torcedores do seu time.

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