The modern standard of handcuffs is the design popularized by Peerless in the early 1900’s, with few alterations since then. Most handcuff brands now bear a similar design, with only minor variances amongst the locks themselves. The design is known as a swing cuff, which features a freely swinging ratchet arm that allows law enforcement to secure the cuffs with just one hand, improving speed, agility, and safety. The most significant differences between handcuffs are found in the way the cuffs connect.
Chain handcuffs are the most widely used among law enforcement for everyday arrests due to their ease of application. The two cuffs are attached by a short chain, just one or two links long. This chain allows the cuffs to be folded in half for improved portability. The ratchet arms on chain cuffs are usually swing-through for ease and speed of application: they can be applied to the subject’s wrist with just one hand.
Hinged cuffs are very similar to chain cuffs, but they are connected with a large hinge rather than chain links. Hinged cuffs are shorter than chain cuffs when extended, which allows for less hand/arm mobility. This makes hinged cuffs potentially more secure, but somewhat more difficult to apply to a testy subject. Many law enforcement officers find that the solution to this problem, if one wrist has been cuffed but the subject is non-compliant, is the ability to apply uncomfortable torque on the cuffed wrist as a method of persuasion. The hinge adds some overall strength to the cuffs as well. Though it’s very rare, the occasional Hercules (probably somebody on drugs) may be able to snap the chain links between traditional handcuffs, but with hinged cuffs on he’s going nowhere. Like chain cuffs, hinged cuffs can be folded in half.
Solid bar handcuffs provide the same level of tamper-resistance as hinged handcuffs and even less mobility, but they come with the caveat of being harder to carry because they cannot be folded in half. Their appeal lies in the ability for an officer to apply pain-compliance techniques. Handcuffs connected with a solid bar are most likely to be used for prisoner transport of individuals who are known to be non-compliant.
Though not technically a type of handcuffs by themselves, waist chains are worth noting here for the added security they bring. The purpose of a waist chain is to further reduce a subject’s mobility. They are unable to bring their hands higher or lower than their belly, thus preventing violence and tampering.
High security handcuffs can take the form of any of the three basic types of handcuffs listed above. The primary difference is that high security handcuffs cannot be opened with a standard barrel-shaped universal handcuff key. High security handcuffs are keyed individually and are more pick-resistant than their lower security counterparts. Some high security cuffs include an additional locking position to increase the security of the double lock.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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