When should Police use Handcuffs

Is handcuffing always necessary?  Are there exceptions to the rule?  When should police not be permitted to handcuff suspects?

Police officers are granted certain powers.  And by granting these powers to the police, we expect certain things from them in return.  For example, we expect them to protect us.  Police officers use their arrest authority to protect people by enforcing laws and arresting the people who violate these laws.  And while performing their sworn duty to keep us safe, police officers also need to be able to keep themselves safe.  One of the things police do to keep themselves and the rest of us safe is to handcuff persons they have placed under arrest.

In general, police officers should always be allowed to handcuff arrested subjects.  No matter the reason for the arrest, there is no way of knowing what an arrested person will do.  The circumstances of the arrest may appear minor to the officer but at the same time could mean the whole world to the person in custody.  The arrested person may see the arrest as ruining their life, their marriage, their job, or whatever.  They may just want to prove they are somehow smarter than the police officer.  They may want to avoid being arrested for something far more serious than the officer is aware of.  Any number of factors weigh into what a person will do once arrested, and there’s no way for the police officer to know everything going through the arrested person’s mind.  One thing officers do know for certain.  Anyone will try to run, given the opportunity and enough incentive.  Anyone.  The police officer can’t elliminate the incentive.  They can only take away the opportunity.

A police officer who allows a person to escape from custody is not performing their duty to keep us safe.  There are numerous examples of what happens when people under arrest take the opportunity that well-meaning police officers provide to them by not using handcuffs.  In 2006, according to thefreelibrary.com, an unhandcuffed prisoner being transported in Northumbria, Britain, pulled the handbrake on the transport car, causing the car to overturn and the transporting constable to be killed.  In May of 2010, two police officers in Massachusettes escorted a man from a bar after arresting him on a warrant.  The man left the bar with the officers voluntarily and so the officers did not handcuff him.  As the officers were walking the man to their car, the man fled.  In the course of giving chase one of the officers suffered a severe neck injury.  (telegram.com)  In March of 2010, according to the Middletown Press (Connecticut), an inmate from Riverview Mental Hospital in New York State was being transported without handcuffs to what was described as a “routine” medical appointment, and escaped.  The inmate was described as having a violent history.  And for hours, this inmate from a mental hospital for the criminally insnae was loose in public.

These persons who escape from police custody because of improper restraint are escaping back into society.  Back to where they could do further harm to innocent victims.  It is necessary for police officers to protect society, to protect us, from further harm.  It’s not only necessary, it is something we require them to do for us.  And to do this, they need to restrain the people they arrest with handcuffs, and with other restraints as necessary. 

To put it another way.  If a person being cited by an officer for speeding is going to see their dying mother, and this is their only chance to do that, will they stop and let the officer arrest them, or run for it?  And how is the officer to know?

Police officers are expected to perform their duties to the best of their abilities in order to enforce our laws and to keep us safe.  Allowing anyone an opportunity to escape and possibly commit more crimes is a failure of the police to do their jobs.  As harsh as that may sound, police officers can not afford the luxury of trying to decide if the person they are arresting is a “good guy” who won’t try to escape.  If it were that easy to distinguish between the “good” people and the “bad” people we wouldn’t need police officers in the first place.  But we do.  And we need them to provide us, society, with protection from harm.  Handcuffing is not a punishment.  It is a means of protection, a necessary security measure that should always be done whenever a police officer needs to make an arrest.