Proper Placement of Handcuffs and Variations

As quick and simple as it is to secure most modern cuffs on an individual (with a pair of swing cuffs it can easily be done with one hand), there is quite a bit of technique that law enforcement officers must learn in order to place handcuffs most efficiently. The primary goal of cuffing a suspect is to restrain their hands (at the very least) so that they can be dealt with lawfully. Quality cuffs placed in just about any position will effectively provide some level of restraint, but an LEO must also consider the possibility that the suspect may try to escape, and cuff them accordingly without an extreme degree of discomfort for the suspect.

Handcuffs placed in front make it much easier for a suspect to attempt to pick the lock, open them with a universal handcuff key or even use their hands and arms as a weapon. An officer’s first line of defense, then, is to cuff the hands behind the back. Police recruits are typically taught to apply cuffs so that the palms of the suspects’ hands, already behind their back, face outwards with the thumbs up. This makes it more difficult for the hands and fingers to work together to pick or otherwise escape from the cuffs.

A concern, however, of this standard of hand placement is the possibility of handcuff neuropathy. Handcuff neuropathy is the occurrence of numbing, tingling, burning, or pain sensations in the suspects’ hands as a result of nerve compression from the cuffs. Handcuff neuropathy occurs in varying degrees, but if severe enough can be rather debilitating and long-lasting. One way officers may choose to lessen this possibility is by placing the palms together (still behind the back). This somewhat increases the ease with which the suspect may tamper with the lock, so the officer will likely also position the cuffs with the keyholes facing up and away from the hands. This makes the cuffs more difficult to open, even with a covert handcuff key.

A particularly motivated individual may attempt to slip their hands over their feet and legs in order to bring their hands to the front and into a better position to tamper with the cuffs. If this is a concern, a law enforcement official may choose to secure the cuffs, via zip ties or a carabiner clip, to the back of the suspects’ belt or belt loop. Belly chains are another option, often used when transporting high-security prisoners.