Each day I receive many interesting questions and comments about police procedure, CSI, and forensics. I thought it would be fun to share my answers and experience on a Q&A blog.  I welcome your questions and comments.

Question: Do all cops use the same type of handcuffs?

The two main types of handcuffs used by law enforcement are pictured above. The top image is of a pair of chain-linked handcuffs. Most police officers prefer to carry and use chain-linked cuffs because the chain between the bracelets swivels, making the cuffs flexible and easier to apply to the wrists of combative suspects.

The lower image is of a pair of hinged cuffs. These are more commonly used when transporting prison or jail inmates. Hinged cuffs are not flexible (the hinge between the two bracelets does not swivel) which greatly reduces wrist and hand movement.  This type cuff is sometimes difficult to apply to the wrists during a scuffle.

Both style cuffs operate using a ratchet and pawl locking system. Both are equipped with a second lock (double-locking) to prevent any further tightening of the ratchet which can injure the wrists of the cuffed suspect.  The second lock also prevents prisoners from picking the lock.

20 replies
  1. Lee
    Lee says:

    Officers should use leg irons and waist chains whenever they’re transporting prisoners from one facility to another. Normally, it’s department or court policy that dictates when and how prisoners are to be restrained. However, that’s also a call individual officers can make if they’d feel more comfortable increasing the level of restraining devices.

    I’m not sure what you mean by arm chains. I’m assuming you’re speaking of the waist chain that loops around the prisoner’s waist and attaches to handcuffs. Waist chains limit arm and hand movement.

  2. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    Aside from the cuffs when/if do they use the leg and arm chains? When they deem a court bound suspect as potentially dangerous? Who makes the call to use this type of restrain?

  3. deanne
    deanne says:

    Hi Lee! Great blog…it’s going to keep you busy!
    First – my copy of your book is here! I hope to see you this year and have it signed. (BTW: I was so surprised when I read the “thanks” section. Thank you!! I feel so special.)
    Okay, my question/comment: In No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem’s character escapes his cuffs (sort of), by stepping through them, so that his arms were in front of his body. Then he did a very bad thing to the policeman (who was on the phone and not watching) to escape. A very terrifying scene. How likely is it that someone can get their arms in front of them while cuffed? I tried this (without the cuffs, of course!) but couldn’t do it. Is it just that I have a bigger butt than Javier??

  4. Lee
    Lee says:

    Good question, Beth. Officers have the suspect step inside a holding cell and then close and lock the door behind them. The prisoner then places his cuffed hands through or close to an opening in the cell door. This allows officers to safely unlock the cuffs. That opening in the cell door is also used to pass prisoners their food trays.

    If officers are bringing the suspect to an interview room they’ll normally leave the cuffs on their prisoner. If officers are removing cuffs from a prisoner outside a cell they’ll apply a wrist lock technique for control before unlocking the restraints. Two or more officers should be present anytime they’re removing cuffs in an unsecure area.

  5. bethproudfoot
    bethproudfoot says:

    I’m actually very interested in the tail end of the handcuffing process…when you take them off. Do prisoners try to escape as you’re unlocking the cuffs? What do you do to prevent this?

  6. Lee
    Lee says:

    Hi Kelli. Thanks for stopping by. I do believe that chain-lined cuffs would have been the most common type used in that period, but there were other styles around, too. Here’s a link to some photos of handcuffs along with their corresponding dates of use.


    Most cops keep a handcuff key on their key ring along with their car keys. Some even keep a spare key hidden somewhere in their uniform or gunbelt in case of an emergency.

  7. Kelli Stanley
    Kelli Stanley says:

    Terrific blog, Lee!! And get ready for a ton of traffic! 🙂 I love the name, too, but I hope you don’t have to actually work the Graveyard Shift to answer the inundation of questions you’ll receive. 🙂

    My question is about vintage handcuffs … back in the late ’30s or early ’40s, do you think the chain-link version would have been the most common? I see them more often in films of the period, but I was wondering if the hinged were also around.

    Second question: where’s a typical place a police officer would keep the handcuff key? They seem like small little buggers …

    Thanks for the invite, and it’s great to see you in the blog-o-sphere! 🙂

  8. Lee
    Lee says:

    Linda – Those plastic cuffs you’re asking about are actually called flex cuffs and they’re used when no other cuffs are available. They’re extra and are very difficult to apply if someone is resisting arrest. Normally, police officers use flex cuffs when a suspect is cooperative. You’ll see them used in situations where there are multiple arrests, such as during a riot or other large, disruptive crowds.

    Here’s Portland, Oregon PD’s policy regarding flex cuffs:

    Alternate means of securing a subject may be used if the person in custody has, or reasonably appears to have, an injury or condition that would be further aggravated by handcuffing.

    Flexcuffs: Flexcuffs may be used in lieu of regular handcuffs when handcuffs are not available or when it is practical for the situation. Flexcuffs may also be used as leg restraints when necessary to restrain violent or unruly persons. Flexcuffs should be removed with wire cutters, unless emergency conditions exist which make it impractical to obtain wire cutters.

    Terri – Yes, I’m asked about flex cuffs all the time.

    Norm – I’ve fired Tasers before and I’m not aware of any delay on the weapons used by law-enforcement. I’d think any wait time at all could prove deadly. I’ll check with my Taser guy and get back to you.

    Bonnie – Good to see you.

    Peg – So true.

  9. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Great blog, Lee!

    Isn’t it funny how the zip ties that were first used for electronics–tying wires together, later for auto manufacturers for the same thing, eventually became spare cuffs for law enforcement?

    Peg H

  10. Timber Beast
    Timber Beast says:

    Hey Lee,

    Since Joyce brings up Tasers, have you used one? It looks like from the promo video that Taser, Intl put out that you have to poser the thing up for five seconds before it fires.

  11. bonniehh
    bonniehh says:

    Congrats, Lee, on creating such a writer-friendly blog. I will be visiting frequently to enjoy your always fascinating information. Bonnie HH

  12. Terri Thayer
    Terri Thayer says:

    With the title Handcuffs, I wonder what kind of people will land here after a google search? Should be interesting.

    Great job. Love the pictures. That’ll really help us writers. I think you’re going to be bombarded with questions. Good thing you have all the answers!

    This will be a blog I check daily.

    Don’t you always get asked about plastic handcuffs?

  13. Bill Cameron
    Bill Cameron says:

    Hey, Lee! I was just looking at your handcuffs section a week or two ago. Weird!

    I remember when I took the Citizens Police Academy, in one of the classes we did an exercise where I group of us tried to cuff one of the instructors as he resisted. Yeah, we couldn’t do it. It was hilarious, four or five of us wrestling around on the mat with this guy, and he just took us down, over and over and over.

  14. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    So what about all those plastic thingies that I see being used to subdue people?

    They look like large twist ties for vegetables.

    I’ve never been subjected to having any of those put on my wrists, but it seems that the plastic version is the El Cheapo way to go. Even if it does work.

    Any thoughts on that you’d like to share with us?

    P.S. Welcome to the blogosphere. It’s about time my friend.

  15. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    “Applying handcuffs on a combative suspect sometimes takes eight hands and a can of pepper spray.” And/or a good zap from a Taser!

    Nice job, Lee! I guess Blogger wasn’t good enough for you, huh?

    I have no questions right now, but I’m sure I’ll think of something eventually!

  16. Lee
    Lee says:

    I think I owe you a ton of answers, too.

    Applying handcuffs on a combative suspect sometimes takes eight hands and a can of pepper spray.

    I’ve been in situations where you have to keep one hand on your gun to keep the bad guy from grabbing it while you use the other to scuffle and try and get the cuffs on the guy. Doesn’t work very well, if at all. The one-handed cuffing technique is pretty much fiction unless the suspect allows the officer to do it.

  17. BeckyLevine
    BeckyLevine says:

    Geez, you don’t get enough questions from me already?! Okay, here’s one for the blog. Can an officer put these handcuffs on a suspect using just one hand (the officer’s, not the suspect’s!)? Seems like I’ve seen that on TV, way back on Adam 12, even, but wondering if it’s at all real?

    Welcome to the blogs! This is going to be a GREAT source of info.

Comments are closed.