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Trainer Talk

ASP and Handcuff Innovation

ASP and Handcuff Innovation


The modern handcuff was designed in 1912. It comprised two bracelets—connected by a chain—that closed around the wrists with a ratcheting, swing-through bow. This design remained largely unchanged for most of the 20th century. Fortunately, a lot of innovation has taken place in the past few decades, giving officers and agencies better-performing restraints, and a wide variety of options.

The first significant change to the handcuff was made in 1981, with the introduction of hinge cuffs. This alternative to the chain-connected design reduces the possible axes of movement, providing greater subject control. The years since then have brought more and more field experience and feedback, along with changes in available materials and manufacturing technologies and other factors. Leading manufacturers have added features that make cuffs safer, stronger, easier to use and more reliable for the modern officer.

Some may wonder why handcuffs stayed largely unchanged for so long, and why there was much of a reason to change these relatively simple tools at all. After all, they all hold wrists in much the same way. Inertia has a lot to do with this: most police officers are issued their equipment as recruits, and often stick with the same equipment throughout their careers. Most will only change their gear if it has failed in the field, or if they are exposed to better tools through training. At the agency level, departments often resist change, and/or are constrained by budget considerations. Most agencies do care about liability, officer safety and training advancements, yet they can’t or don’t always jump quickly to put new tools in place.

I was fortunate to spend my career with one of the largest police agencies in the world. For the second half of that career, I was assigned to the Defensive Tactics Unit, where we taught handcuffing as part of our curriculum. Many times during training, officers would have problems with their handcuffs; cuffs would be rusted shut, or would be too hard to cycle. Injuries would occur because the sharp or rough edges would dig into their wrists. Occasionally, we had to bring officers to ESU (Emergency Service Unit) to have cuffs cut off, because the mechanism would fail and we would not be able to remove the cuffs with the key. These issues are not a big deal when they occur during training, but they could be dangerous (not to mention fraught with liability exposure) if they occur on the street.

I also consider myself fortunate to be a Trainer for ASP, because it is a company that is truly obsessed with officer safety and wellbeing—and this has clearly informed the evolution of handcuffs over the past couple of decades. ASP’s founder and CEO, Kevin Parsons, has a deep background in use of force training. He and his company listen to feedback from officers, including the tens of thousands around the world who have completed ASP Instructor Certification (AIC) training. This attention to user needs has led to advances in material and strength-to-weight optimization. Importantly, ASP design and manufacturing advancements have produced smoother surfaces, and edges that are radiused to prevent injuries. It has also given us dual-sided keyways for easy cuff adjustment and removal. Colored status indicators help ensure that double locking isn’t skipped, and the newest “Plus” models even eliminate the need to use a key or tool of any kind to engage double locks.  And these are just a few of the many advancements that ASP had brought to the restraint category.

Everything on the duty belt is in some way related to officer safety, and no officer safety tool gets more use than handcuffs. And like those other duty belt items, handcuffs continue to evolve. Continuing advancements in restraint design, features and materials have made the handcuffing process faster, smoother, more reliable, and inevitably safer for both officer and detainee.

James Schramm

NYPD (ret.)

ASP Trainer since 2004