Police handcuff procedures

Updated July 19, 2017

Television cop shows have seemingly made many of us experts in police standard operating procedures. We know how to read a suspect his rights, how someone is notified of arrest and how someone is handcuffed. Unfortunately for us, TV glosses over or ignores the extensive training officers go through as far as subduing and restraining a suspect safely.

Police Responsibility

It is important to understand that handcuffs are used for temporary restraint. Police should not and normally do not keep suspects handcuffed for extended periods of time. However, arresting officers can and will handcuff suspects or prisoners to ensure the officer's safety, the safety of the public or the safety of the suspects at risk of endangering themselves. Long-term restraint with handcuffs can result in injuries ranging from strained or broken wrists to nerve damage.


While it seems like a good idea to be able to restrain violent or criminal people to keep them from endangering others, these same people restrained with handcuffs are at a grave disadvantage as far as protecting themselves. Without their arms or hands free, they are unable to protect themselves from imminent threat of another person. Even something as simple as tripping forward poses an extreme risk of injury or even death. Police officers are trained to keep all of this in mind--keeping themselves, the public and the suspect safe--when arresting someone.


The procedure for handcuffing individuals varies extensively based on the nature of the situation. Police officers go through extensive training in this procedure. A cooperative, non-violent suspect will be handcuffed much more cooperatively than a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime. Basically, the procedure involves the subdued suspect facing away from the officer with hands behind the back or head. The officer applies one cuff to one hand placing it thumb up behind the back. Then the officer brings the other hand down behind the back and applies the other cuff. It is recommended that officers keep their handcuffs in an easily accessible place for ready use. It is also recommended that they carry two keys--one for easy use and one on their person for emergency use.


Corrections officers in jails and prisons have a slightly different need for handcuffs and slightly different concerns when cuffing prisoners. Recommendations for corrections officers include keeping prisoners off-balance while handcuffing them and keeping in a "ready" position prepared for resistance by the prisoner.

Unusual Circumstances

Some situations require alternative procedures in handcuffing suspects. It is common and often required to handcuff suspects with their hands in front if they are handicapped, pregnant, juvenile or obese.

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About the Author

Lyle Smith is an award-winning copywriter with a widely varied background. He has completed work for individuals, small businesses and fortune 1000 corporate clients all over the country. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Villanova University.