As the last line of defense in the war against crime, police officers are constantly called upon to apprehend and arrest violators of the law. These violators include petty offenders as well as violent felons. And don't forget about emotionally disturbed persons (EDPs) either. Fortunately for us, today there are scores of new and innovative products aimed at keeping officers safe while handling and transporting prisoners.
The first piece of equipment all officers have in their arsenal to restrain a suspect (resisting or otherwise) is handcuffs. Used by patrolmen for more than 200 years, handcuffs enable us to restrict a prisoner's mobility, offering some degree of safety. Unlike the handcuffs of yesteryear, however, today's handcuffs are tough and lightweight. They are also more comfortable to carry and easier to use.
The most prevalent handcuffs include those manufactured by American Handcuff Co., Hiatt-Thompson, Peerless Handcuff Co., and Smith & Wesson. All are built to a high standard, constructed of nickel-plated carbon steel or stainless steel, and all meet National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards. A wider variety than ever is currently offered by these manufacturers.
For example, all standard model handcuffs come in either chained or hinged designs. Smith & Wesson offers the model 104 with special hard-to-pick locks for maximum security.
Similarly, Hiatt offers its Blue Box, which encases the cuffs to make them more rigid while also covering the lock making it almost impossible to pick. The box can even be padlocked. A Marine model is also available from Smith & Wesson, built for saltwater and humid environments.
All brands offer an over-sized handcuff for individuals with uncommonly large wrists, while American Handcuff Co. holds the distinction of being the first to offer a Juvenile Handcuff with its JN-105 model. It is the first handcuff to address the need to restrain persons with wrists smaller than the smallest opening of standard handcuffs. American Handcuffs Co. is also the only company that offers an "ultra-lite" handcuff. Constructed of alloy aluminum, these cuffs are 50 percent lighter than standard cuffs at 5.4 ounces but still meet NIJ standards.
Whether worn in an open-ended carrier, a standard or dual handcuff case, or looped through the belt, handcuffs should be placed in an area that is comfortable yet allows quick and easy access. There is nothing worse than an officer struggling to get his cuffs out in front of a waiting and oftentimes uncooperative suspect.
Some departments utilize flex-cuffs. First introduced in 1965, these extraordinarily tough restraints are available from NIK Public Safety Inc. (an Armor Holdings Company) and Monadnock. Flex-cuffs are easy to apply, inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to store. The smooth inner surface and rounded edges minimize the chance of abrasion or tissue damage.
What of the prisoner who does not want to cooperate-the suspect who resisted arrest and now, although handcuffed, presents a risk? Products such as the Cuff-Aide better ensure officer safety while also preventing escape.
Distributed by NIK Public Safety, the Cuff-Aide is an ideal tool for use with unruly prisoners. Essentially a mesh covering for the hands, it provides greater security than just handcuffs. Once slipped over an already handcuffed pair of hands and secured in place, it will drastically reduce the ability to pick up contraband. It also prevents a prisoner from grabbing or scratching, as the hands are held at the waist by a strap on the back side of the unit.
The newest wrist restraint system to enter the market is The Grip, designed by Tech 3 Training. Its most prominent and unique feature is the encapsulated locking device, which affords maximum protection from tampering and eliminates the need for double locking. The Grip uses a flexible material that reduces metal-to-skin contact but at the same time conforms to any size wrist-or waist, leg, or ankle. It also withstands 1,500 pounds of applied tension (compared to the tension standard of 495 pounds set by NIJ).
For prisoners who like to kick escorting officers or squad car windows, Humane Restraint offers a nylon control strap that secures around the ankles. A metal buckle attached to the straps then hangs outside the door once the person is seated and the door is closed. This restricts the leg movement of the prisoner while seated, preventing the aforementioned hazards. BMI Safety Corp. also manufactures Velcro body straps that are excellent for joining a prisoner's legs together.
Leg irons, available from all the major handcuff manufacturers, are handy transporting prisoners. Usually around two feet in length, leg irons allow a person to walk but prevent him from running or kicking. A nylon Ankle Hobble is also available from Humane Restraint. It works exactly like a pair of leg irons but is constructed of durable nylon and attaches with hook-and-loop fasteners. Leg irons/hobbles can be used either alone or in conjunction with a belly chain.
When a prisoner needs to be moved for interrogations, transfer to a more secure facility, court appearances, or for medical treatment, belly chains are among the many devices used for transport.
Constructed of hardened steel, a belly chain "ties up" a prisoner's entire body by first securing around the waist and then adding a pair of handcuffs on one end and a pair of leg irons on the other. This system is especially conducive to medical transports when some freedom of movement is needed.
Unlike belly chains, transport belts-such as the ones available from Humane Restraint-restrain a subject's hands to her waist at the side of the body or in front of the body with built-in restraints. Some models use handcuffs and can be locked with a padlock while others utilize hook and loop closures. They are constructed of leather or nylon.
For belligerent prisoners who enjoy spitting and biting, NIK recently introduced The TranZport Hood, a mask/hood combo that slips over a subject's head and facial area to serve as a deterrent against biting or spitting. The medical filtration fabric helps to contain contaminants and it stays in place with a secure-lock tab.
NIK's other model, The Spit Net, affixes under the arms of a subject, providing even more security for transporting threatening suspects. These items are especially useful when transporting people in the backs of patrol cars.
When seated prisoners require extra security, officers are not alone. The Prostraint Chair (manufactured by Aedec International), for example, secures a person in a sitting position utilizing arm and leg straps. Once secured to the all-metal chair, the subject can be wheeled away.
The Transport Leg Brace offers a unique alternative. Worn inside or outside of the pants, this brace allows a restrained person to walk but impedes running or kicking. Once seated, the spring lever that controls the hinged knee can be locked. It is ideal for interrogations, court appearances, and airline and other transports.
Police work is never easy. Arresting suspects is only one dangerous aspect of our jobs. Once detained, new dangers arise. Officers must safeguard themselves against this. With the help of these and other available products, this is possible, now more than ever.[PAGEBREAK]
Handcuff Like a Pro
The proper use of handcuffs should be one of our most important officer safety considerations. If cuffed improperly, a prisoner could escape and flee, or worse, assault you.
Whether you prefer hinged or chained handcuffs, make sure your handcuffs meet NIJ standards. Each handcuff should be able to withstand a tensile force of 495 pounds without failure. Some of the handcuffs on the market today do not meet this standard. I know of a number of incidents in which someone did, in fact, break their handcuffs, so avoid cheap imitations.
The most secure manner of cuffing is with the hands behind the back. To front-cuff is to ask for trouble. However, if front handcuffing is used, greater security can be ensured by cuffing with the backs of the hands together. With the palms out, there is less flexibility of arm movement.
Proper handcuffing, therefore, means cuffing a subject with his hands behind his back with the palms facing out. The cuffs should be snug (but not so tight that they restrict circulation) and always double-locked.
Approach and handcuff your subject from the rear, keeping him off balance during the entire process. The speed cuffing technique of holding both cuffs in the "loaded" position in your strong hand should be employed. Press the cuff arm firmly against the wrist(s) and allow the cuff arm to swing around, locking the metal teeth on the other side.
Always keep a tight grip on the handcuffs. A dangling cuff makes an excellent weapon. And never handcuff yourself to a prisoner. For extra security, cuffs can be applied with links passed over one's belt.
Once on, double-lock the cuffs. Some use a push-pin mechanism, while others are slotted. Double-locked cuffs prevent injuries and are harder to pick. Last but not least, remember that cuffs are only temporary restraints. Check your prisoner often and stay alert.
Some Prisoners Have Keys
Every year, numerous officers are killed by suspects already in custody. Officers must never be complacent and must handle all suspects with care. Here's how.
To ensure your safety and the safety of others, cuff first and then search. Search the suspect for weapons and contraband. However, also keep a sharp eye out for handcuff keys.
Cuff keys are commonly worn around the neck on necklaces and secreted inside the sweatbands of baseball caps. They can also be taped to one's calf or tucked in socks and shoes. This allows easy recovery for a handcuffed prisoner while seated.
Be especially conscious of belts. Cuff keys are oftentimes taped to the inside of belts near the small of the back, as well as inside the belt flaps located near the buckle on adjustable belts. Suspects have even disguised keys as belt prongs inside the buckle's themselves.
Next, search the transport vehicle before placing the suspect inside. You should also check to ensure that the vehicle's shield or screen is secure to prevent an attack from the rear. In vehicles with no shield or screen, an officer should sit in the rear seat (behind the driver) with the suspect. In either case, always secure the prisoner further by utilizing seatbelts and maintain visual contact.
Once at the station house, search your prisoner again. When moving, keep a tight hold of your prisoner and use verbal commands that let him know that you are in charge. Remain alert. An otherwise cooperative prisoner may seek that last chance at escape. Once inside, search the cell area before lodging your prisoner and never enter the cells with your weapon on.
The danger involved in moving prisoners from one location to another is great. By applying some simple methods, officers can safeguard themselves and prevent tragedy.
For More Information
BMI Safety Corp.
Monadnock Lifetime Products
NIK Public Safety
Smith & Wesson
Tech 3 Training
Sgt. Craig Meissner is a 12-year veteran of the NYPD. A freelance writer on officer survival, he is the author of "Disguised Weapons: the Law Enforcement Guide to Covert Weapons."