38 LAW and ORDER I April 2012
SPECIAL REPORT Flex Cuffs Dos and Donts
SUMMARYDepending on how the flex cuffs are
applied, the person may be able to quickly
and easily slip out of them. Training in the
right technique is definitely required. They
dont have to be injury-causing tight if they
are put on properly.
To address large-scale arrest situations, most police
departments supply their ofcers
with plastic flex cuffs. These inexpensive plastic restraints can provide quick control measures for large numbers of arrested people. But dont be surprised that after placing someone in ex cuffs, you look to notice them unrestrained.
By Tom Wetzel
Warning: Flex Cuffs
Require Extra Attention
Flex cuffs, also referred to as zip ties, are easier to escape from than many ofcers realize and training videos on the Internet teach people how to es-cape them. Having an understanding of ex cuff limitations, applying them so as to limit opportunities for escape, and paying attention to those wearing them may help ofcers prevent per-sons from getting out of them.
Methods of EscapeWatching escape training videos are useful for ofcers to learn how an es-cape from a ex cuff may be accom-plished. Some methods of escape for a basic single ex cuff that I observed include breaking the ex cuffs through
a forceful action against the body, slip-ping through them, shimming them loose, and using friction saws to melt them loose. Depending on how the ex cuffs
are applied to the wrists of a person, slipping out of them can be accom-plished pretty quickly. This action can be advanced when a person clenches his/her sts when the ex cuffs are applied. This allows for extra space around the wrist area. After the cuffs are placed on the wrists, a person can then relax his/her hands, which makes the wrists slightly smaller and provides more room within the re-strained area. This allows a person to slip their hands through easier.
You dont just zip them on...
38 LAW and ORDER I April 2012
When I had practiced placing ex cuffs on my own wrists with another ofcer prior to watching some of these videos, I initially placed my hands and wrists together so they were facing each other in the front. I was able to escape from them fairly quickly. When I placed my hands and wrists perpendicular to each other, I was unable to escape. But that doesnt mean someone
with some training could not escape from this restraint arrangement. It is important to understand that persons about to be restrained may try to con-trol the situation by bringing their hands to you in the manner they want to be cuffed. They can then apply what they have learned.
Escape Prevention ObjectivesThere are a number of objectives that police ofcers and their agencies can take to address the concerns of escapes
during large-scale arrest situations. By watching these escape training videos, ofcers can learn how people are taught to escape and address their restraint ap-plications accordingly. After learning what may be at-
tempted, trainers can develop lesson plans to teach ofcers on what to look for from subjects about to be restrained and how to limit escape opportunities when applying restraints. Watching some of these videos would be valuable components of a training program. Having ofcers place the restraints on
each other in a variety of ways during training can help an ofcer understand what a subject experiences, including ex cuffs that get placed on too tight, which could injure a person.Department administrators and
trainers should evaluate their current stock of ex cuffs to determine if they are the right t for their agencys needs. Better ex cuff-type restraints are avail-
CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRAINING AND FIELD USE OF SINGLE FLEX CUFF
Advise the subject to relax his/her hands
prior to applying the cuffs. By directing the
person to relax the hands, the officer can
help limit the amount of loose space within
the cuffs the person may have if his/her
hands were in a tight fist prior to the cuffs
Be cautious if someone tried to direct
you on how he/she wants to be handcuffed
with flex cuffs. A person may be trying
to put himself/herself in a certain escape
position by presenting his/her hands in a
There may be times that due to a per-
sons prior or current injuries, an officer will
try to place the flex cuffs in a manner that
doesnt aggravate an injury at the request of
Cuff behind the back. Just like regular
cuffs, a person should be restrained from
behind as much as possible. Although es-
capes can still happen, this position will
likely cause limitations due to body posi-
tioning and the difficulty in being able to
observe the cuffs themselves.
Also, if a subject is cuffed in the front, he/
she can still use his/her hands to attack an
officer, i.e. double fist punch to the face, use
of the cuffed hands to choke an officer. If a
subject is placed in a cruiser, he/she will be
limited in their movement due to the seat.
Keep subjects separated after being
cuffed. If subjects are close enough to
each other, one may be able to release
the others flex cuffs without a lot of notice.
The other person can then be released.
Watch for excessive movements. Once
cuffed, an officer should try to watch
for a subject making excessive move-
ments. These actions may involve an es-
cape attempt, although not all attempts
may involve lots of movement such as
someone trying to use a shim to escape
the flex cuffs.
It may be difficult to watch a large
number of subjects who are cuffed,- but
officers should try to scan a large group
and watch for suspicious arm and
Subjects with flex cuffs in the front can be dangerous.
Subjects may position their hands to an officer so a gap could be
established to allow them to slip out of flex cuffs once applied.
40 LAW and ORDER I April 2012
able that may be harder from which to escape. Decisions will have to be made on whether more costly variations of backup restraints are affordable for the agency. The purchase of a smaller quantity of better restraints to
supplement the current department supply may be a possi-bility versus a full replacement, which could strain an agen-cys budget. The better restraints would be the rst ones used during a large-scale arrest situation. During the evaluation process, ofcers should obtain sam-
ples of different types of ex cuffs and test them with patrol ofcers. Getting their feedback is important as they will have to use these restraint devices on the street. How quickly they can be applied, storage of the equipment, and how easily someone can escape from them would be factors to consider. Awareness is the key. The use of ex cuffs has a valuable
application for police personnel in restraining persons in large-scale arrest situations such as a riot. Knowing your re-straints and their limitations, increased training in their use, and an awareness of counter training to escape them can help ofcers prevent escapes by subjects placed in them.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT ofcer,
trainer and certied law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in
Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Subject flex cuffed in the back.
Caution should be
applied so the flex cuffs
are not too tight and
cut off circulation to the
temporary red marks
are possible after an
Subject trying to use a post to break the flex
cuffs.Officers should pay attention to attempts to escape
Flex Cuffs Dos and DontsSPECIAL REPORT