Let's all agree on this premise: It is not tactically sound to cuff someone in the front. I lose count of all the incidents involving cops who have been injured or killed as a result of improperly handcuffing subjects in front rather than behind. Some of these incidents have been the result of arrestees complaining that the handcuffs were uncomfortable. I say "tough–those aren't diamond tennis bracelets that I just placed on your wrists!" But let's assume for the purpose of this article that we must cuff in front.
A basic precept of defensive tactics (DT) is that we want to avoid standing directly in front of any subject, since that is where they are at their strongest. All power and strength emanates from one's core, especially if an offensive move or strike springs from someone standing close and directly in front of you. That power is not diminished in any way if they are cuffed in front. In fact, that core strength used in conjunction with steel handcuffs only increases the danger of a subject who wishes to do you harm. Thugs handcuffed in front can use the chain to apply an effective choke hold, block any strikes that you may have to throw at them, and even use them as a takedown device once they trap one of your wrists.
When a subject is cuffed in the front, they lose little, if any, mobility or dexterity. That means that they are still able to manipulate things such as locks, belts, door knobs, etc. It also means that they still have the ability to acquire a weapon–one either secreted on their person, or yours! The incident that vividly illustrates the danger involved when handcuffing someone in front occurred in Tampa, FL in 1998. Two homicide detectives unfortunately handcuffed a suspect in front as the suspect had been cooperative. This knuckle-dragger would later take one of the officers' guns and kill them both. In the process of fleeing, he also shot and killed a highway patrol officer. The subject was later dispatched to hell; he was killed in a police operation.
So, the first "Cardinal Rule of Handcuffing" is that we NEVER cuff in the front. But as cops we all know that rules were made to be broken. Sometimes circumstances are such that we must cuff in the front. What might some of these instances be?
- Medical conditions
- A subject's immense size being such that the arms cannot be brought far enough around back. (I ran into this condition teaching Street Survival in Hawaii. Some Polynesian individuals were so large and muscular that it was impossible to get the hands behind their backs)
- A long prisoner transport for court or medical appointments
Over the course of your career, there may come a time when you will find it necessary to cuff a subject in the front. If that situation presents itself, it does not mean that we throw caution to the wind. In fact we change little of our tactically sound handcuffing protocol. I recommend the following technique be used whenever you find it absolutely necessary to cuff an individual in front.
Applying The Cuffs
Using a modified wrist twist with your left hand, and at the same time applying some tension with that hold, place the single strand on the handcuff channel and apply downward pressure. It should be forceful enough so that the single strand feeds into the double strand automatically. If it doesn't, you need to perform some maintenance on your cuffs. Then, you may use your index finger to assist with closing the single strand. (See photo 2) Now for the technique that makes this so much more tactically sound than standing in front of someone and applying restraints
While continuing to maintain the wrist twist, and with your right hand still maintaining a firm grip on the chain, order the subject to bring his arm across the front of his body so that his left hand is positioned next to his other hand. At this point, with your left hand, perform a three finger handshake (See photo 3), place the single strand on the handcuff channel, and once again supply downward pressure so that the single strand feeds into he double. Snug that cuff up just as we did with the first cuff, and then DOUBLE LOCK!
We're not finished just yet. For added officer safety, while you continue to have the subject looking away from you, attach a flex cuff or strap through the cuffs and his belt or belt loop. This will limit his mobility even further. Once again, perform this while in a tactically sound position.
Removing The Cuffs
As was the case when applying the cuffs, it is always advisable to have a cover/backup officer present. We have no idea what perverse thoughts may have been going through the subject's mind while he was handcuffed. Officer safety is paramount.
Place yourself in an advantageous position, preferably in that same 45 degree angle position when you applied the cuffs. For our purposes here, assume that we are on the right side of the subject. Once again our gun side is away. Order him to swing his hands across his body so that both of his cuffed hands are just off his right hip. Get a firm grip on the chain, and remove the left cuff first, ensuring that you feed the single strand back into the pawl after the cuff clears his wrist. With his left hand free, have him place that hand on top of his head, reminding him to continue to look away from you. (See photo 4) Now remove the cuff on the remaining hand and step away smartly, ordering him to keep both hands on his head until you tell him that it's all right to move.
Always endeavor to avoid cuffing someone in front of their body; it is fraught with potential problems for you. However, if one day you find yourself in a situation where you have no other option, please cuff tactically and professionally.
Stay safe, brothers and sisters!