Handcuffs are restraint devices designed to secure an individual's wrists close together. They comprise two parts, linked together by a chain, a hinge or in the case of rigid cuffs, a bar. Each half has a rotating arm which engages with a ratchet that prevents it from being opened once closed around a person's wrist. Without the key, the handcuffs cannot be unlocked and so the restrained person is unable to move their wrists more than a few centimetres/inches apart, making many tasks difficult or impossible. This is usually done to prevent suspected criminals from escaping police custody.
There are two distinct subtypes of contemporary metal handcuffs: one in which the cuffs are held together by a short chain, and another, of more recent origin, which uses a hinge for this purpose. Since hinged handcuffs permit less movement than a chain cuff, they are generally considered as more secure. A third type, the rigid handcuff, has a metal block or bar between the cuffs. While bulkier to carry it permits several variations in cuffing, and example of rigid handcuffs are Hiatts Speedcuffs as used by most police forces in the United Kingdom. Both rigid and hinged cuffs can be used one-handed to apply pain-compliance/control techniques that are not workable with the chain type of cuff. Various accessories are available to improve the security or increase the rigidity of handcuffs, including boxes that fit over the chain or hinge and can themselves be locked with a padlock.
Sometimes two pairs of handcuffs are needed to restrain a person with an exceptionally large waistline because the hands cannot be brought close enough together; in this case, one cuff on one pair of handcuffs is handcuffed to one of the cuffs on the other pair, and then the remaining open handcuff on each pair is applied to the person's wrists. Oversized handcuffs are available from a number of manufacturers, as are juvenile-sized restraints, though none of the latter in current production are approved for use by the United States National Institute of Justice.
Handcuffs with double locks have a lock-spring which when engaged stops the cuff from ratcheting tighter to prevent the wearer from tightening them. Tightening could be intentional or by struggling, when tightened the handcuffs may cause nerve damage or loss of circulation. Also some wearers could tighten the cuffs to attempt an escape by having the officer loosen the cuffs and while the cuffs are loose attempt the escape. Double locks also make picking the locks more difficult.
There exist three kinds of double locks as described in a Smith & Wesson brochure:
These are double-locked by fully lifting the lever with a fingertip and then allowing it to return. This causes the lock spring to move into a position that locks the bolt thus preventing the cuff from being further tightened. Thus no tool is required to double lock this type of cuff.
These are double-locked by fully depressing the push pin using the small peg on the top of the key. This causes the lock spring to move into a position that locks the bolt thus preventing the cuff from being further tightened.
These are double-locked by inserting the small peg on the top of the key into the double lock slot. In this position, the small peg can contact the end of the lock spring. The key is then slid towards the key hole. This causes the lock spring to move into a position that locks the bolt, thus preventing the cuff from being further tightened.
Plastic restraints, known as wrist ties, riot cuffs, plasticuffs, flexicuffs, flex-cuffs, tri-fold cuffs, zapstraps, zipcuffs, or zip-strips, are lightweight, disposable plastic strips resembling electrical cable ties. They can be carried in large quantities by soldiers and police and are therefore well-suited for situations where many may be needed, such as during large-scale protests and riots. In recent years, airlines began to carry plastic handcuffs as a way to restrain disruptive passengers. Disposable restraints are considered by many to be highly cost-inefficient; they cannot be loosened, and must be cut off to permit a restrained subject to be fingerprinted, or to attend to bodily functions. It is not unheard of for a single subject to receive five or more sets of disposable restraints in their first few hours in custody. Recent products have been introduced that serve to address this concern, including disposable plastic restraints that can be opened or loosened with a key; more expensive than conventional plastic restraints, they can only be used a very limited number of times, and are not as strong as conventional disposable restraints, let alone modern metal handcuffs. In addition, plastic restraints are believed by many to be more likely to inflict nerve or soft-tissue damage to the wearer than metal handcuffs.
A new development in restraint technology is robotic handcuffs. The device is mounted to the inside rear window sill of a police vehicle. They are operated by the officer activating a belt worn remote control. Staying at a safe distance, the officer commands the suspect to place his hands in the extended kevlar loops. He then closes the loops, using the remote control. The device tightens gently to sense the presence of the wrists, and then loosens the bands slightly to achieve the correct fit. This takes place in about 1/2 second. The officer can then safely proceed with his investigation, or turn his attention to a second suspect. The officer applies standard handcuffs to the suspect and then releases him from the robo restraint for transport.Robo Restraint
On occasions when a suspect exhibits extremely aggressive behavior, leg irons may be used as well; sometimes the chain connecting the leg irons to one another is looped around the chain of the handcuffs, and then the leg irons are applied, resulting in the person being "hog-tied". In a few rare cases, hog-tied persons lying on their stomachs have died from positional asphyxia, making the practice highly controversial, and leading to its being severely restricted, or even completely banned, in many localities.
Most modern handcuffs in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Latin America can be opened with the same standard universal handcuff key. This allows for easier transport of prisoners and keeps one out of trouble if one loses one's keys. However, there are handcuff makers who use keys based on different standards. Maximum security handcuffs require special keys. Handcuff keys usually do not work with thumbcuffs. Recently, a number of padlocks have been marketed which use this same standard key.
Somewhat recently, the Universal handcuff key was taken one step further, resulting in U.S. Patent # D454,774, a handcuff key which is readily accessible behind a police officer's breast badge. Invented by Michael Anthony Stahl, the device was licensed to the New York City Police Department in 2002. Stahl developed the key as a result of service as an Officer with Pinkerton's, Inc., in 1995, where supervision and transportation of work-release personnel was a daily occurrence. The device was updated to a simpler design in January, 2010, resulting in U.S. Patent # D607,305
In the past, police officers typically handcuffed an arrested person with his hands in front, but since approximately the mid-1960s behind-the-back handcuffing has been the standard. The vast majority of police academies in the United States today also teach their recruits to apply handcuffs so that the palms of the suspect's hands face outward after the handcuffs are applied; the Jacksonville, Florida Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are notable exceptions, as they favor palms-together handcuffing. Also, suspects are handcuffed with the keyholes facing up (away from the hands) to make it difficult to open them even with a key or improvised lock-pick.
Because a person's hands are used in breaking falls, being handcuffed introduces a significant risk of injury if the prisoner trips or stumbles. For this reason, the police officers having custody of the person need to be ready to catch a stumbling prisoner. The risk of the prisoner losing balance is higher if the hands are handcuffed behind the back than if they are handcuffed in front.
Some prisoners being transported from custody to outside locations, for appearances at court, to medical facilities, etc., will wear handcuffs augmented with a belly chain. In this type of arrangement a metal, leather, or canvas belt is attached to the waist, sometimes with a locking mechanism. The handcuffs are secured to the belly chain and the prisoner's hands are kept at waist level. This allows a relative degree of comfort for the prisoner during prolonged internment in the securing device, while providing a greater degree of restriction to movement than simply placing the handcuffs on the wrists in the front.
Since handcuffs are only intended as temporary restraints, they are not the most complicated of locks. This is why escaping from handcuffs is a common stunt performed by magicians or skilled criminals, perhaps most famously Harry Houdini.
There are ways of escaping from handcuffs:
The above methods are often used in escapology. As most people's hands are larger than their wrists, the first method was much easier before the invention of modern ratchet cuffs, which can be adjusted to a variety of sizes. Modern handcuffs are generally ratcheted until they are too tight to be slipped off the hands. However, slipping out of ratchet cuffs is still possible. During his shows, Harry Houdini was frequently secured with multiple pairs of handcuffs. Any pair that was too difficult to be picked was placed on his upper arms. Being very muscular, his upper arms were far larger than his hands. Once he had picked the locks on the lower pairs of handcuffs, the upper pair could simply be slipped off.
It is also technically possible to break free from handcuffs by applying massive amounts of force from one's arms to cause the device to split open or loosen enough to squeeze one's hands through; however this takes exceptional strength (especially with handcuffs made of steel). This also puts an immense amount of pressure on the biceps and triceps muscles, and when tried by suspects (even unsuccessfully) can lead to injury, including bruising around the wrists, or tearing the muscles used (including pulling them off their attachments to the bones).
Another common method of escaping (or attempting to escape) from being handcuffed behind the back, is that one would, from a sitting or lying position, bring one's legs up as high upon one's torso as possible, then push one's arms down to bring the handcuffs below one's feet, finally pulling the handcuffs up using one's arms to the front of one's body. This can lead to awkward or painful positions depending on how the handcuffs were applied, and typically requires a good amount of flexibility. It can also be done from a standing position, where, with some degree of effort, the handcuffed hands are slid around the hips and down the buttocks to the feet; then sliding each foot up and over the cuffs. These maneuvers, and the reverse (otherwise impossible) maneuver of bringing the handcuffed hands up behind the back and forwards over the head and then down in front, can be done fairly easily by some people who were born without collarbones because of the inherited deformity called cleidocranial dysostosis.
In Japan, if someone is photographed or filmed while handcuffed, their hands have to be pixelated if it is used on TV or in the newspapers. This is because Kazuyoshi Miura who had been arrested brought a successful case to court arguing that being pictured in handcuffs implied guilt, and had prejudiced the trial. Similarly, in Hong Kong, people being arrested and led away in handcuffs are usually given the chance by the policemen to have their heads covered by a black cloth bag.
Police handcuffs are sometimes used in sexual bondage and BDSM activities. This is potentially unsafe, because they were not designed for this purpose, and their use can result in nerve or other tissue damage; bondage cuffs were designed specifically for this application.
Handcuffs are familiar enough for the word to be used in metaphors, e.g.: