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May 07, 2003
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Sales of disposable cuffs booming; S.F. Police Dept. orders 30,000 nylon restraints for protesters

The San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO - Anti-war demonstrators who are arrested in the future in San Francisco will have something more in common than a shared passion. Many of them will probably be taken away in handcuffs made of braided nylon that their manufacturer touts as "the inescapable choice in disposable restraints."

It's definitely an opportune time for Tuff-Tie Inc. of Voluntown, Conn., which makes the disposable handcuffs, as prisoners of war are taken into custody in the Persian Gulf and anti-war demonstrators run afoul of the law in San Francisco and in other U.S. cities.

Sales have also been steeply higher at the Disposable Handcuff Warehouse in Norfolk, Va., at EZ Cuff in Lake Villa, Ill., and at other firms that make disposable hand restraints, both in nylon and those made of plastic electrical cable ties.

Nylon handcuffs are the choice of U.S. soldiers taking prisoners in Iraq, while San Francisco police are making a transition from plastic to nylon. Officials for the department did not return calls seeking comment, nor did a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department, which also recently ordered new temporary handcuffs.

A few weeks ago, Tuff-Tie landed an order from San Francisco for 30,000 of the devices. It has also received orders from other major cities, from U.S. military bases around the country and from federal agencies.

"There was a distinct increase in sales before the buildup of the war," said Tuff-Tie owner Charles Nash.

Lisa Kohn, the owner of EZ Cuff, said that she has delivered orders for 40, 000 heavy-duty nylon handcuffs to the Persian Gulf in the past three weeks and that her net sales in the first quarter of this year exceed the total for 2002.

"It''s crazy here," she said.

There''s also a potential order from the Middle East, from a country she would not name, for as many as 400,000 handcuffs. Kohn said she is keeping her fingers crossed.

The Flex-Cuf of 1965, manufactured by NIK Public Safety, is believed to be the first in the line of disposable restraints, said Chris Patzer, owner of Disposable Handcuff Warehouse, which also offers a complete line of gang chains, leg irons, metal handcuffs and more.

NIK is now owned by Armor Holdings, based in Jacksonville, Fla., a manufacturer of a broad range of security equipment and, as it notes on its Web page, the necessities of homeland security. EZ Cuff, Tuff-Tie and the others are its competition.

The war in Iraq, as well as demonstrations and civil disobedience, helps explain the 500 percent increase in sales during the past two months at Disposable Handcuff Warehouse, said Patzer.

"There was a spike (in sales) with cities who were caught by surprise with all these protests," said Patzer, who added that he had just filled an order for the city of Berkeley and another from Capitola (Santa Cruz County). "The cities have had a rush to buy the nylon restraints," he said.

In terms of price, the cuffs are cheap -- at Tuff-Tie, it''s about $1.50 per restraint, less when they are purchased in bulk. Smith & Wesson metal handcuffs can cost from $28 to $45 or more, according to the Discount Handcuff Warehouse Web site.

"People always ask me how am I going to make it in a business with plastic taking over, but it really isn''t," said Patzer. "The disposable ones are used in special situations. Otherwise, they''re using metal handcuffs."

Moreover, Disposable Handcuff Warehouse and the others are in a cyclical business, and the owners know it. "This, too, will pass," said Patzer. "It''s just a little blip, not something you can base your business on over the long term. At least, I hope the world doesn''t come to that."

Tuff-Tie of Connecticut was founded in 1989 by Charles Nash''s father-in-law,

Robert Charland, a retired major in the New York state police. The handcuffs are assembled by developmentally disabled workers at a state-run sheltered workshop in Oneida County, N.Y.

"We joked about offering a corporate model after the Enron problem surfaced, " said Nash. "Company logos could be printed on the handcuffs. We figured there was not enough volume -- but you never know."

Kohn established EZ Cuff in the Chicago area just three years ago, and last year made a major sale to the military in Afghanistan. She watched proudly as prisoners were transported to a detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, their hands bound by EZ Cuff products.

"We tied up the Taliban," said Kohn.

Copyright 2007 Hearst Communications, Inc.

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