Justice Tech – The Lowly Handcuff

Posted: March 31, 2014 in Corrections, Humor, Policing
Tags: , , , , ,

Handcuffs are probably one of the most basic and ubiquitous pieces of police equipment around today. They’re carried used not only by thousands of police officers around the world, but by private security officers, correctional officers, magicians, teachers at some schools, and, yes, lovers.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We apparently even have a National Handcuff Day, celebrated on February 20th each year to mark the issuance of the modern handcuff patent in 1912 (how’s that for a phony, made-up corporate holiday?).

Handcuffs are so common, in fact, that we normally pay little attention to them at all, unless perhaps you’re wearing a set for some reason. But, who invented them and why, and how have they evolved to become what we recognize today?

The earliest restraints were actually shackles that bound the wrists and ankles using metal loops, joined by chains, that were then secured with some type of padlock. Heavy, cumbersome, and awkward, to say the least.

This gave way to more self-contained devices in Europe that went by such endearing names as Twister, Nippers, and Snaps. Some of these were reportedly very painful to wear, including ones called the Figure Eight, which, according to an 1894 article on the history of handcuffs were more of a punishment in and of themselves than a restraining device:

Handcuffs, like other things, have improved with time. Up to 1850 there were two kinds in general use in England. One of the forms, most common in the earlier part of this century, went under the name of the “Figure 8.” This instrument does not allow the prisoner even that small amount of liberty which is granted by its modern counterpart. It was chiefly used for refractory prisoners who resorted to violence, for it had the advantage of keeping the hands in a fixed position, either before or on the back of the body. The pain it inflicted made it partake of the nature of a punishment rather than merely a preventive against resistance or attack. It was a punishment, too, which was universally dreaded by prisoners of all kinds, for there is no more unbearable pain than that of having a limb immovably confined.

I’m not certain what a “refractory prisoner” was, but I am certain I wouldn’t want to be one, especially if it resulted in having a limb “immovably confined.”

Some of the more recent history of specific handcuff manufacturers is a bit murkier, but it appears that some of the earliest handcuffs that we’d recognize as such today were originally designed and made in England in the early 1800s. Known as Darby Handcuffs, they were heavy, non-adjustable, and fairly impractical for officers of the newly emerging police forces to carry and use.


Darby handcuffs were cumbersome and nonadjustable.

Peerless (r) Handcuff Company, celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2014, is one of the largest handcuff manufacturers in existence today.  They also make one of the most widely used modern handcuffs across policing, corrections, and related fields – chain link cuffs that are light, simple to operate, and effective. I used these myself in police and correctional environments for years, and I don’t recall ever having the first problem with them. But, the same qualities that make them simple to use also make them easier to escape from.

Six Ways to Escape from Handcuffs, Zip Ties & Duct Tape!

Unless you’re dealing with Hannibal Lecter, though, you’ll probably be fine using a basic set of handcuffs. But, what if you do need to restrain a highly motivated, devious, and dangerous individual? Asp, and other companies, make a set of rigid handcuffs reminiscent of the early handcuffs discussed above. They’re more comfortable and more humane, but they maintain the same restrictions of movement sought after in the early days of handcuffing.

And, remember that handcuffs, even high security cuffs, are never foolproof. Being restrained isn’t the same as being completely incapacitated. Watch this guy slip the cuffs, dive through the open divider window, and take off driving the squad car, almost hitting one of the cops on the scene.

Dashcam Shows Suspect Steal Police Cruiser

Have a safe week!

And, if you have a moment, please share this post with one or more of your social networks. We’d really appreciate the exposure!

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  1. Brittius says:

    Heavy magnet and two paperclips… Those not used to handcuffing, will generally break the teat off of the cuff key. All the rookies used to line up in front of me, their cuffs rattling. Open both paperclips to make a hasty “U” shape. touch the end of the paperclip to the magnet, and hold the other end on the center post inside of the keyway. Then with the other paperclip, simply dip it into the keyway when the broken teat is attracted to the center post. Lift out the broken part, and you are back in action.
    Orientation of Right/Left cuff are important. I have used two sets of cuffs at times on violent arrestees. I have seen cheap cuffs have chain links broken by emotionally disturbed persons, and then, they are armed with weapons that you provided them with, on their wrists. I have also worn out the ratchet steel jaws on one set of cuffs that I thought was a good manufacturer but used soft steel. Never had any problems with S&W cuffs.
    Always double lock the cuffs. Arrestees thumbs always pointed skyward. Keyways on the side away from the hands to prevent shimming or picking. If a real nasty and violent arrestee is encountered, cuff and, duct tape both of their thumbs together.


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