Handcuff Injuries: Simple Steps to Reduce Liability
As the name suggests, handcuff neuropathy is an injury—usually to someone in police custody—caused by overtightening of handcuffs. Over-compression most often damages the superficial radial nerve, and this damage can be severe and permanent. Less common, though still not unusual, are medial and ulnar neuropathies. Nerve damage due to handcuffing injuries has resulted in countless judgments against agencies and officers, and millions of dollars in damages being awarded. Knowing this, officers should keep in mind some easy-to-recall steps when applying handcuffs:
- Check For Tightness. Once restraints are applied, check for tightness. Do this by ensuring you can insert a fingertip between the subject's wrist and the handcuff. This applies to any type of restraint being used, whether chain, hinge, rigid or disposable.
- Always double lock. This often-overlooked part of the handcuffing procedure is a crucial step that should never be skipped. Double locking prevents the bows from being tightened beyond where the officer sets them, and also helps prevent handcuffs being shimmed open. Double locking is especially important for the transport phase of an arrest; once a subject is put into the back seat, if the handcuffs are not double locked, the bows will most definitely tighten when they are seated. Activation of the double lock completes the restraint application process.
- Monitor the subject. There are several obvious reasons for this. But one that may not be as obvious is that many people with handcuff neuropathies are intoxicated at the time of arrest, and due to alcohol-induced anesthesia, they may not complain, or even feel any discomfort. An intoxicated arrestee warrants extra caution. Periodic monitoring of the subject's hands and wrists can avoid nerve or soft tissue damage. Stay vigilant, even during the most mundane arrests.
All of this said, overtightening of handcuffs can still occur, especially when the subject is noncompliant. This is where having the best possible gear comes into play. ASP handcuffs have uniquely smooth surfaces and radiused edges, resulting in a safer handcuff that is less likely to injure. Also, if an ASP handcuff is applied too tightly, it may be quickly and safely adjusted by inserting the key, turning to release the double lock and bow simultaneously, then turning the other way to re-engage the double lock once the bows are correctly set. This “Loosen and Lock” feature eliminates the need to remove the key, or to fully undo the handcuff. It’s not only good for the bad guy, but is a major officer safety consideration that is worth its weight in gold.
ASP also has an Ultra Plus Cuff that has a keyless double lock, with a push button on the edge of the frame. This design virtually eliminates the need to have a key present at all during cuffing.
Arming yourself with high quality gear—and especially knowledge and ongoing training—can keep you and those in your custody safe.
Chicago Police Department (Ret.)
ASP Trainer since 2011