By George Demetriou
NYPD Detective (retired)
Since 2007, at least five police officers have been killed or seriously wounded while handcuffing — in some cases after getting one handcuff on the violator. The offenders “rip” or pull the handcuffed arm away suddenly after cooperating with the officer and then draw a concealed firearm and shoot the officer. It should be noted that in every case that this has occurred the offender was being placed into custody for a minor offense.
Being aware that the offender can resist or assault at any point will remove the element of surprise from his strategy. Officers must be cognizant of the fact that this is the stage of the cuffing process where the bad guy does not need to see you. You have made physical contact so he knows, basically, where you are without having to look at you. You are standing where he can turn, pivot, spin or drop down and he knows you are within arms reach.
Between getting the first cuff on and the second cuff on is the most crucial part of the cuffing process yet this is the point of handcuffing where many officers begin to mentally relax believing they have control.
Violent offenders who are not psychologically incapacitated by the officer’s presence and command of the situation, especially the subjects who have pre-planned and practiced for this opportunity, will fight at this point. The “click” of the first cuff is their cue to go into action. Serious offenders who consider fighting or killing cops may understand or believe several things:
• By initially behaving in a compliant manner the officer will often lower his guard
• If the officer gets one handcuff on he’ll probably think the situation is “under control”
When the officer wants to take physical control he will have to step within striking distance of the suspect.
• When the officer is using both hands to control the subject and hold the cuffs he is not holding a baton, Taser, pepper spray, firearm or anything else that will do him harm
• While the officer’s hands are, at least temporarily, occupied the officer will not defend himself effectively
• If the offender has a weapon that the officer did not find or see the chance of accessing it is better now that the officer is preoccupied with maintaining cuff control
You may not be able to stop a violent offender from attempting an assault, but you can control whether or not you are surprised.
Why the Cuff Rip Works
An officer almost cannot help but to “chase” the handcuff that is pulled from his control. After all, the handcuffs are the officer’s personal property and he is responsible for them. No officer wants to lose a suspect or equipment.
Once the offender makes the explosive movement to pull the cuff and fight or shoot he has the time advantage. The officer will be reacting to the offender’s action. Controlling any violent resistor is difficult. Having to control an armed violent resistor at close range leaves little margin for error.
The first step is checking arrest procedure mentality. It is impossible to determine a suspect’s capacity for violence based on the crime he committed when that crime was minor. All suspects, their family members and their friends are dangerous. Act accordingly.
All suspects are armed until you know positively that they are not. This includes the realization that wherever an officer is present there is at least one firearm present. The offender, during handcuffing, will be well within grabbing distance to the officer’s firearm.
Handcuffing is a time for heightened vigilance not a time for relaxing because the event is “over.” Being handcuffed may be “showtime” for the violent offender.
Physically combating the handcuff rip is difficult at best. The safest option is to assume the offender is going for a concealed weapon. This of course means the officer should disregard the handcuffs, move and draw his firearm. Quickly changing position and being able to get your firearm on target will be the life saving action should the bad guy have a weapon. Better to have the suspect run off with the handcuffs then to try to regain control only to find out that while you’re trying to grab the suspect’s arm he’s pulling out a weapon with his free hand.
It should be noted that “chasing” the handcuffs is unproductive time as the suspect’s arms will be moving too fast during the “rip” to gain control. It will be nearly impossible to get control of both arms. One hand free is all an armed suspect will need. The safest way to gain physical control of the offender, in this situation, is to control the head-NOT the arms and bring the suspect down before he can draw a weapon. Effective control of the head will allow the officer to use a takedown that doesn’t rely on arm control. The offender will be forced to use his hands to break his fall as opposed to being focused on attacking the officer. This can only be done effectively with realistic, consistent training.
Handcuffing may be considered the end of a confrontation for the arresting officer. For the violent offender it may be considered the beginning of an assault on the officer. These diametrically opposed perspectives are at the root of the problem for officers.
Officers need to approach handcuffing with the proper mentality and have a trained response should the offender decide that he’ll do whatever is necessary not to go to jail at that moment.
The training priority regarding handcuffing should be the offender who is initially cooperative, but becomes violent just before or just after one handcuff goes on.
George Demetriou, NYPD detective (retired) is the President of Spartan Performance. Spartan Performance is dedicated to physical conditioning as well as the Dynamics of Violent Offender Confrontations (D-VOC). Spartan Performance uses the CrossFit methodology for fitness training.