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How well do your handcuffs really work?

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Introducing the GOTCHA Restraint

Phase 1: Introduction

When a law enforcement or correctional officer places a pair of handcuffs on a subject, they normally assume that the subject is controlled or at least secured. We have a certain level of expectation that the subject who is in the handcuffs will not be able to escape. Yet time and time again we hear of the tragedy of a subject who has picked their handcuffs and killed the officers who were transporting them. What exactly are handcuffs supposed to do? What assumptions do we have of them?

Back in 1862 an inventor named W. A. Adams patented a handcuff design that used adjustable swing arms. The idea was to design a type of restraint where you can close them to automatically lock, and use a small key to unlock when needed. The locking system used was called the “Pawl & Ratchet.” This purpose of this handcuff was used to restraint a subject who was detained, or under arrest, or a subject who was being combative or trying to cause harm to themselves or others. Does this sound familiar?

I think we use the handcuffs of today for the same basic reasons. In addition, there has not been an effective design change in handcuffs since. There have been a few attempts to change the shape of the key but the internal locking device has remained the same for over 100 years.

In 1865 an entrepreneur named John Tower picked up the design and started one of the most successful American handcuff companies in the world called, “Tower Handcuffs.” These cuffs were used up until the World War II, based on the original Adams patent. Some other names of handcuff companies are:

  • American Handcuff Company
  • Crocket & Kelly
  • Hyatt
  • HWC
  • Peerless
  • Rapid-Cuff
  • Smith & Wesson

Over the last century, the handcuff took on many different shapes, sizes and was constructed from various types of materials from forged steel, precious metals, aluminum, to stainless steel. Yet the purposes of using handcuffs have remained very much the same.

Everything in our industry has gone through various stages of evolution. Our uniforms have changed, from design, colors, and even fabric; our police weaponry has gone through a series of evolution- where once we could only shoot a projectile that would kill, now these specialty impact munitions we fire from a firearm save lives!

The flashlights we use, to batons we carry, even our communication systems have changed from dixie cups and dental floss, to rotary dial and tone phones, to digital, analog, to satellite cellular systems. But one of the most frequently used and dependable pieces of police equipment, THE HANDCUFF, hasn’t.

The 21st century has brought in a new phase of police restraints. As the law enforcement industry responds to public outcry for more protection, there is renewed growth in all types of restraints that promote control, without injuring. From single-chained swivel handcuffs, to hinge handcuffs, to modification of the Rapid Cuff of existing handcuffs, all of these handcuffs have one thing in common: they use the same pawl and ratchet locking mechanism. The double locks are either push in pins or coil springs, located at the base of the handcuffs to stop the restraints from getting any tighter, and supposedly making them harder to escape from. I have recently found a new handcuff that I believe will usher in a new era in police safety restraints.

They are called,"GOTCHA!” The name is catchy because once you have them on and double locked they have GOT YOU! At this time, the GOTCHA handcuffs are unable to be picked with unconventional tools most commonly used by subjects. The unique length of the key and shape of the key’s wedge limit the areas a key could be hidden or concealed in or on the human body.

We finally have a new handcuff with an internal locking mechanism I call the “Cam Locking Systems.” This mechanism seems to work extremely well. Neither I, nor my students, have been able to pick, jimmy or jar the handcuffs open. After more than four years of research and working with the law enforcement community, the GOTCHA line of handcuffs and restraints are proving to be the safest handcuffs on the market today.

Phase 2: Problems

Handcuffs are supposed to be a one time buy, wouldn’t you think? This means that once you purchase a pair of handcuffs, and use them under normal operational conditions, they should last you a 20-year career. However, we have found that there are a few things that limit the handcuffs of today from accomplishing that.

1. Rust - Most handcuffs will be carried on the duty belt in a leather or nylon case, locked in a locker, placed in an open handcuff box, or even thrown in the bottom of a duty bag. The types of materials used will more than likely be inexpensive metal alloys of some kind. This means that they are very easily affected by various climates of heat, humidity, moisture, and condensation. This can also happen during cleaning the handcuffs from other bio-hazardous substances that get on the handcuffs during use. Water has always been the handcuff’s worse nightmare. All of these climates cause rust and will start to tarnish the handcuffs, therefore breaking down the metals used weakening the handcuffs themselves including the spring which in turn causes the pawl not to engage the ratchet teeth.

    a. GOTCHA handcuffs are made of Stainless Steel including the springs and rivets. In my experience when GOTCHA handcuffs while teaching our “Water Safety Survival Instructor,” program which mainly focuses in and around water, the GOTCHA handcuffs have not rusted” You are in chlorinated, fresh, and salt water. You may experience light surface rust but that is acceptable and can easily be wiped and cleaned away.

    b. Having all the components made of stainless steel makes the handcuffs more durable and not hindered by the climate of other handcuffs, therefore increasing the shelf life of the restraints- making it a one-time buy! So with the above mentioned results, I have chosen to use Gotcha handcuffs in my water courses because of their durability. Before I switched to GOTHCA’s, I was going through 3-5 pairs of handcuffs in classes.

i. Question: How many pairs of handcuffs do you lose from rust in 20 year career?

2. Breakage - Most handcuffs after time will lose their strength due to the type of metal construction they are made of. In addition to the above climates, you have the handcuffs being placed on subjects of all sizes and shapes. This puts a big wear and tear on the handcuffs. Most handcuffs usually break at the single strand, or at the swing arm, especially from the subjects who always try to muscle out of the handcuffs by bending, pulling and striking hard objects with them.

    a. At times pure human strength has been used to pull apart the handcuffs at the swivel chain, breaking the links, or by continuous pressure being applied, or twisting motion, resulting in the breaking of the handcuffs off at the double cheek plate.

    b. The stainless steel components, including the rivets, provide GOTCHA handcuffs with the strength they need as well as increased durability. I am told that Gotcha handcuffs far exceed the NIJ Standard 0307.01 for metallic handcuffs. Remember you are not building a house, and you can break ANYTHING, however we are talking about restraints that are placed on a subject we have under arrest and in our custody and they should not be able to pulled apart or bend them by shear human strength. Wouldn’t you agree?

3. Locking Mechanism - Unfortunately with the “Pawl and Ratchet,” mechanism used in other handcuffs, is easily defeated by many ways. I am sure you know of a story of a subject who was able to pick the handcuffs they were secured in. Shouldn’t we have a certain expectation that once we secure the subject in the handcuffs, they will not be able to pick them, so easily? Let’s separate this in three different categories.

i. (Jimmy/Jarring) - This term is used when the method of unlocking the handcuffs is by means other then using the key holes.

    1. Using a small thin piece of materials being slid passed and underneath the teeth of the single strand, you can disengage the pawl, and the single strand will unlock, allowing the subject to escape freely.

    2. Using a comb and pressing down the pawl, you can disengage the pawl from the ratchet, and the single strand will unlock, allowing the subject to escape freely.

ii. Picking- this term is used when the method of unlocking the handcuffs is by means of using the key hole without using the proper handcuff key.

    1. Using a paperclip or thin piece of metal with a small bent tip in the shape of an “L”. Once inside the key hole the subject moves the object in a circular motion to disengage the pawl and ratchet mechanism unlocking the single strand, allowing the subject to escape freely. 2. Using a hard sharp instrument and driving it into the key hole, vigorously moving it in circular motion until you hear the pawl and ratchet break, again unlocking the single strand, allowing the subject to escape freely.

iii. Double Lock- This is either a push pin or spring coil system, used to ensure the handcuff stays in the original locked position, and does not tighten during transportation.

    1. Push pins - This is done by striking a hard surface in the direction of the pins using gravity to pull the pins to the front. This bypasses the pressure needed to unlock the double lock.

    2. Spring Coil - This is done by using the same method as above or placing a small hard thin object inside the double lock space, and applying pressure to the opposite side, unlocking the double lock.

    a. The picking, jimmying, jarring or bypassing the double lock mechanism mentioned above do not work with the GOTCHA handcuffs. The geared mechanism prevents them from being jimmied. At worse, the shim will become meshed between the gear and swing arm teeth and prevent any further rotation of the swing arm, and the handcuff will have to be cut off the subject. There is nothing to pick as in a conventional handcuffs. They have even designed the handcuff to prevent the use of a ballpoint pen barrel to make a key. The key activates the double lock and striking the handcuff against a wall or desk cannot defeat it. The only way to open and double lock the GOTCHA is by using the universal handcuff key for all GOTCHA handcuffs.

    b. Please note that the GOTCHA handcuff key is not the typical and common handcuff key millions of people already have. Outside of using conventional methods and machinery tools, i.e., using a hacksaw, the escape methods of the old do not work with this handcuff.

4. Wrist Sizes - It has been proven time and time again that handcuffs are not a one size fits all type of restraints. I believe there are a moderate percent and maybe more of the general population that standard size handcuffs do not fit. They are either too small or in some cases too big. Has this ever happened to you?

    a. Some handcuffs have too much of a circular shape to the design, or are too oval, not allowing for the handcuffs to fit securely to the subjects wrist, and in some cases not fit at all.

    b. This places unneeded pressure at the wrist, which may possibly injure the wrist bone, or creating neural damage.

i. GOTCHA handcuffs are ergonomically designed to fit the natural shape and dimension of the wrist, limiting the possibly of injury internally, and on the single strand and cheek plates they are tapered, limiting injury externally. GOTCHA also has a tapered grip design to accommodate smaller to larger hands of officers.

5. Key Hole Position - This category is definitely an officer safety issue. The latest tragedy was in March of 2005, in Atlanta when an officer was overpowered while removing the handcuffs from a subject. After the first handcuff was removed, the subject turned and quickly punched the officer, brutally beating her, and escaped the courthouse with her duty belt, and gaining access to her firearm. This resulted in others being killed and his escape.

    a. During training in the past and in some current locations, focusing on the location of the keyholes was a means of saving time for the removal of the handcuffs at the department. The small key design caused most of us to go out and buy a bigger longer key. Have you ever bought a bigger handcuff key?

i. GOTCHA handcuffs are the only handcuffs in the world to key from both sides. They identified this topic being an officer safety issue, and due to the superior design of the cam locking system, this safety feature is possible. ii. In my training classes having the key holes on both sides, and bigger key has made the need for training handcuffs with a built in key obsolete!

My two complaints about the Gotcha handcuffs is that they will not fit a standard handcuff holster, and the price. When I mentioned this to Taper International CEO, he thanked me for my comment and said that all GOTCHA handcuffs will come with a standard nylon holster at no cost. Later I have found that most hinge handcuff cases fit the GOTCHA handcuffs. However if you are anything like me then you understand the motto,” If it’s free it is me!’

While we are on the subject of price, let me state that even at the list price of is over $100.00 these handcuffs are a bargain. When you consider that in your career you will most likely go through 3 to 5 sets of handcuffs at $30.00 a set. You do the math. These cuffs are a one time buy. Then he continued to add, if the officer does not wish to have the lifetime warrantee we offer, then the handcuffs will be sold for approximately $89.00. What is the added price you would add for fact that GOTCHA cannot be picked, jarred or jimmied? That is a hard one to answer because I feel that officer safety is priceless!

Over the years, I have evaluated a majority of handcuffs available in the US. The below categories shows the areas you should evaluate all handcuffs from. Like with all products I have written about, the ONLY way to understand the points above or to even get a professional opinion based on fact is to get a pair of GOTCHA’s and used them yourself.

Phase 3 - Evaluating your handcuffs

Proper evaluation has always been a major problem. Here are a few categories to closely look at prior to purchasing your handcuffs. Take your current handcuffs through this evaluation process and compare it to others.

    1. Solid Structure
      a. Type of materials used for the construction of the handcuffs

    2. Internal Locking Mechanism used

      a. Pawl & Racket
      b. Cam Locking Mechanism

    3. Ease of Cycling

      a. Ease of cycling the single strand

    4. Durability/Tensile Strength

      a. Strength of the handcuff themselves
      b. Overall durability of the material used

    5. Cheek Plate Strength

      a. Strength of the cheek plates, ease of separating or bending while being on

    6. Accommodating Sizing

      a. Various subject applications for sizing
      b. Compare your current ones to

    7. Double Lock Strength

      a. Ease of bypassing the double lock

    8. Control Factor

      a. Prior to applying the handcuffs, measuring the control in officer’s hands and of physical control of the subject after being secured.

    9. Clean/Disinfectant

      a. Can you clean them and have them still perform at the same level of expectation prior to cleaning them

    10. Climate Effected

      a. How easily does climate effect your handcuffs

So there you have it, the first effective design changes for handcuffs in over a century, and it is called GOTCHA! For me, GOTCHA is my handcuff of choice; at this time, it is far better than anything on the market that I have seen to dated. I have been told of Taper’s R&D efforts, which if validated, will obsolete even this handcuff. But enough of the future stuff, for now all you have to do it get a pair and evaluate them yourself. For more information you can visit the GOTCHA web site at

Dave Young is the Founder and Director of ARMA, now part of the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also the Chairman of Advisory Board, and a training advisor for Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 25 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

Dave has participated in and trained both military and law enforcement personnel in crowd management operations throughout the world. Dave is recognized as one of the nation’s leading defensive tactics instructors specializing in crowd management, chemical and specialty impact munitions, protocol and selection of gear and munitions, ground defense tactics, and water - based defensive tactics.

He has hosted television shows for National Geographic TV Channel on Non Lethal Weapons and the host of Crash Test Human series. He is a former staff noncommissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, a member of the Police Magazine advisory board, and a technical advisory board member for Force Science Research Center. Dave is an active member of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET), International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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