Most models of today’s standard-issue handcuffs can be opened with a universal handcuff key, even across different brands. A universal handcuff key, while a little counter-intuitive at first thought, is intended to create a smoother process for both officer and suspect, and that means a tactical advantage for the average citizen as well.
Universal handcuff keys all have the same simple design: a hollow barrel with a small tooth on the end. When the key is turned, the tooth wedges between the ratchet and the pawl, disengaging the lock mechanism.
The simplicity of the handcuff key design is surprising when you compare it to a house key or a car key, but it’s for a very good purpose. Imagine the hassle of requiring a different unique key for every single pair of handcuffs: it would unnecessarily slow down what can be a very tense and dangerous process for law enforcement officers.
A suspect may be passed between several different officers from initial detainment to prisoner transport to the moment when the cuffs are removed. A universal handcuff key allows for this transition to occur smoothly, and as safely as possible for everyone involved.
Some handcuff keys include a pin on the back end; this is used to engage the double lock on some handcuffs. However, the pin is not necessary to unlock cuffs that have been double locked.
Handcuff keys can be made from metal or certain types of strong plastic (like reinforced nylon). Metal handcuff keys may last longer, but may be easier to see on your person and cannot pass through a metal detector without setting it off. A handcuff key made from a material other than metal can be useful for those who travel frequently to volatile areas and prefer to be prepared for anything.
The fact that anyone at all can purchase handcuffs, and the knowledge that they can be easily overcome with a tiny key of simple design should be reason enough to keep one on your person at all times.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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