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There were more than 600,000 police and sheriff patrol officers in the United States in 2017 alone.

Whether you work in law enforcement or security, or you’re just an enthusiast, you may be curious as to how handcuffs are to be applied properly. Read on to find out.

Applying Handcuffs: The Basics

For most modern handcuffs, applying them properly is a quick and simple process. In fact, with a pair of swing cuffs, it can easily be performed with just one hand. However, there is some technique to applying handcuffs efficiently in every scenario, which law enforcement officers are required to study and master during their training.

The primary (and somewhat obvious) goal of cuffing a suspect is to restrain their hands, if not their entire arms, to deal with them lawfully and prevent them from posing a threat to law enforcement and any bystanders. High-quality handcuffs will effectively provide an adequate amount of restraint, no matter what position they’re placed in. However, a law enforcement officer must also consider that potential for the suspect attempting to escape, and cuff them appropriately given the situation. Ideally, the officer will be able to sufficiently cuff and restrain the suspect without causing too much discomfort to the suspect.

Handcuffs in Front

In the majority of cases, handcuffs should not be applied to the suspect’s wrists with their arms placed in front of his body. If the handcuffs are placed in front, the suspect would have a much easier time picking the lock, using a universal handcuff key, or attacking those around them by using their cuffed arms together as a weapon.

Because of this danger, a law enforcement officer’s initial line of defense is to cuff the suspect’s hands behind their back. In most cases, police recruits are taught to apply handcuffs so that the palms of a suspect’s hands face outwards, and so that their thumbs point upwards. This makes it incredibly difficult for the suspect to use their hands and fingers together in an attempt to pick the lock or escape in some other way.

Dangers To the Suspect By Using Handcuffs

There is one concern that comes with applying handcuffs in the manner described above, and that is the potential for handcuff neuropathy.

Handcuff neuropathy is the occurrence of tingling, numbing, burning, or otherwise painful sensations in the suspect’s hands. This occurrence comes about as a result of the handcuffs causing nerve compression in the suspect’s wrists, hands, and arms.

Handcuff neuropathy occurs with varying degrees of severity, and will normally cause no permanent damage if the cuffs are adjusted to ease the discomfort. However, if allowed to continue, handcuff neuropathy can cause debilitating and long-lasting damage to the suspect’s arms.

Law enforcement officers can help avoid the potential for handcuff neuropathy by placing the suspect’s hands so they face towards each other, instead of facing outwards (though still behind the suspect’s back to ensure everyone’s safety). The downside to this is that it can enhance a suspect’s ability to tamper with the handcuffs and escape. To avoid this possibility, the officer may also position the handcuffs so the keyholes face upwards, away from the suspect’s hands.

By applying the handcuffs in this manner, not only is the suspect less likely to experience handcuff neuropathy, but the cuffs will be very difficult for the suspect to open -- even if they somehow got hold of a covert handcuff key.

Additional Methods of Detainment

If a suspect is particularly desperate to get away, they may attempt to slip their hands under their feet and legs -- essentially “jumping over” their cuffed wrists -- in order to bring their hands around in front of them. This way they would be in a better position from which to tamper with the handcuffs, or attack those trying to detain them.

If this possibility seems like a concern for a given suspect, the law enforcement officer might decide to connect the handcuffs to the suspect’s belt or belt loop, using zip ties or a carabiner clip. Belly chains may also be used, as they often are for high-security prisoners.

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