Guide to Police Handcuffs

Law enforcement agencies frequently use handcuffs to enable them to keep suspected criminals in custody. Police handcuffs are used across the world however the specific model varies depending on the country. Police handcuffs tend to be speed cuffs which is characterised by a rigid grip between the two rachets. 

History of police handcuffs

In 1912 police handcuffs became more like the style that is used nowadays. The first swing cuffs were designed by George Carney and his design was revolutionary as it became possible for law enforcement officers to secure the handcuffs quickly and securely whilst just using one hand, which gave increased security and ease of use. 

How do handcuffs work?

Police handcuffs are devices used for restraining and they are secured around the suspect’s wrists. Police handcuffs consist of two parts that are linked together by either a chain, a hinge, or a ridged bar. Each of the cuffs has a rotating arm which is attached to the ratchet, and this prevents it from being opened once it has been closed on the suspect’s wrist. 

Types of handcuffs

There are three different types of handcuffs and these are hinged handcuffs chain handcuffs and bar handcuffs. Hinged handcuffs are connected using a large hinge and these are good for reducing the mobility of the suspect. Chain handcuffs are the common model that is used by USA law enforcement officers although they give the suspect a little more mobility compared to the hinged cuffs. Bar handcuffs are rarely used however they do offer a safer option for transporting suspects who are non-compliant as there is little room for movement. These cuffs are connected using a solid bar which makes them resistant to tampering. Nowadays there is also disposable handcuffs that are made from nylon, and these make it possible for police officers to carry several sets which can be useful when dealing with many suspects such as during a riot. 

Silver chainlink handcuffs with silver key inserted

What handcuffs do police use in the UK

In the UK police tend to use the rigid model of handcuffs. Rigid handcuffs are easy to work with and they can enable the suspect to be effectively restrained. Once the rigid handcuff models have been applied it only required minimal force to control the movement of the suspect. Despite the effectiveness of these handcuffs, they are not widely used across the world but all of the police forces in the UK use this model design. 

What are police handcuffs made of?

Most modern handcuffs are made from steel which enables an adjustable wrist size, and the handcuffs are equipped with a locking device which is automatic.  Nowadays there are disposable handcuffs that are made from nylon, and these have the advantage of the enforcement officer being able to carry several sets.  

Police Hand Cuff FAQ

Can police handcuff you without arresting?

It is possible to be handcuffed without being arrested which is known as being detained. Handcuffs can be used to restrain someone trying to escape or who is becoming violent. The police officer will need to consider how serious the situation is and if the suspect needs to be detained. Police have the power to detain a suspect without having to formally arrest them which is when handcuffs could be used without arrest. 

Do handcuffs hurt?

Handcuffs are often applied in violent circumstances and when a suspect is struggling which can lead to overtightening of the cuffs and cause trauma to the wrist. On some occasions suspects being handcuffed has resulted in lacerations, fractures, and other injuries. It is standard procedure to check the tightness of the handcuffs to ensure that they are not too loose to avoid suspects escaping or too tight that it will cause pain or injury to the suspect. Police officers should be able to get a pinkie between the cuffs and wrist.   

Why do police handcuff in front?

In most cases, suspects will be handcuffed at the back as this is a safer form of restraining.  There will be very few circumstances where suspects will be handcuffed at the front.  Suspects would only be handcuffed at the front if there was a health reason which meant that rear handcuffing would cause considerable risk to the suspect. Larger suspects tend to be handcuffed at the front providing they are not being too aggressive as this will reduce the risk of any problems. 

Why do police use zip ties instead of handcuffs?

Zip ties would be used when there are more people to handcuff which would not be possible with the traditional cuffs. Zip ties are carried in the police vehicle as they are easy to use when required to detain a suspect. Zip ties are useful for use as handcuffs and they are easier and cheaper than metal handcuffs however they cannot be reused. Zip ties are made from a material that is hard to break therefore once they have been securely applied it is not possible for the suspect to break free. Zip ties are easy to use and just need to be wrapped around the suspect’s wrist to securely detain them. 

Can a human break handcuffs?

Technically it is possible to break away from handcuffs if a large amount of pressure is used. Using a lot of arm force can cause the device to split or loosen enough to enable the suspect to squeeze their hand through; however, this is something that requires considerable force especially when steel handcuffs are being used. 

Are police handcuff keys universal?

Modern handcuffs that are used in the UK, Canada, and the USA all work using a universal key. The universal key makes it easier to transport prisoners as there is no risk of not having a suitable key. The universal key tends to come with each pair of handcuffs. The key design is very simple; and it is a barrel shape with a single tooth at one end and there is often a smaller pin at the other end. There are some handcuff makers who produce cuffs that require a slightly different key as these are based on different standards.  

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