Hand Positioning During Handcuffing—"The Why Behind the How”
Understanding why something is done a certain way helps straighten the learning curve, and handcuffing is one area where a little bit of learning goes a long way. That’s because bad things happen when handcuffing is done improperly. Of course, handcuffing is taught in all of our local departments and training academies, but in my experience, the quality and consistency of that instruction still varies. ASP’s cuffing system—called “Rock and Lock”—is based on refined, sound concepts. It’s been tested and proven over many years, to the point where it has been adopted by agencies in over 100 countries. A key foundational principle of Rock and Lock—or any safe, effective handcuffing procedure—is the positioning of the hands.
First, unless you are mandated to handcuff in front—such as for a transport—the subject should always be handcuffed behind the back. If you are required to cuff in front, hopefully you are using restraint equipment that is designed specifically for that purpose.
Next, there is the position of the hands, and the orientation of the cuffs on the hands. Have the subject put his hands behind his back, knuckle-to-knuckle, palms facing out. Place the cuffs on the wrists, just above the hands. When properly applied, the pawls (locking mechanisms) of your handcuffs will be along the back of the subject's wrists.
Why do we handcuff with the palms facing outward, instead of palms together (“prayer” position)?
- To limit hand dexterity: With palms facing each other, a subject is more likely to be able to use his hands in a coordinated fashion. Turning them outward greatly reduces or eliminates that ability.
- To limit access to the locking mechanism: We always stress—and officers should always remember—that handcuffs are temporary restraining devices. They aren’t high security devices, and nothing is 100%. So don’t make the restraints any less secure by giving easy access to the keyways. The hands-out position, along with proper cuff fit, makes it difficult to impossible for most people to get their fingertips near the locking mechanisms.
- To provide more control: The positioning of the hands in this manner provides better control of the subject, which is of course the desired outcome of any physical confrontation.
- To maximize officer safety: Items 1 through 3 above add up to increased officer safety. Obviously this is a priority in all police operations, even basic handcuffing.
We always need to monitor our arrestees. We must avoid complacency, and make it more difficult for a subject to hurt us, and/or to escape. So turn those hands out, apply cuffs properly, and always remain vigilant.
Chicago Police Department (Ret.)
ASP Trainer since 2011