Seattle police get new handcuffs for comfort’s sake

Jun 25, 2019, 8:55 AM | Updated: 3:08 pm

At the start of 2019, the Seattle Police Department began phasing out its old steel handcuffs with newer versions. The main difference — the new ones are “more comfortable.”

“They are just regular handcuffs, but what we wanted to do was find ones that fit better ergonomically, didn’t cause as much discomfort to people,” said Deputy Chief Marc Garth-Green with the Seattle Police Department.

The reason for the new, less painful handcuffs?

“There’s no reason not to,” Garth-Green said. “We are always looking to do it in a more efficient, better way. If there is more associated paperwork with people being hurt, we don’t want that either. You don’t want the person being hurt … if we can avoid injuring somebody, that’s the best day we have out there, not hurting anybody.”

The new handcuffs are easy to spot. Instead of shiny silver, they’re matte black and look like something off of Batman’s utility belt. The new handcuffs are aluminum, but have the same strength as the old steel versions.

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The term “comfortable” is, of course, relative. I tried out a pair. Granted, I wasn’t being wrestled onto the ground while being placed in the handcuffs. Nor did I try them on for an extended period of time. However, you can feel the difference.

The old model feels like cold, jagged steel. A twist here or there and you feel the edge pinching into your wrists. The new models, despite being metal, aren’t cold or sharp. They’re smooth, rounded, and don’t dig into your arms and wrists.

That difference, hopefully, will lead to a side benefit — less paperwork for Seattle police officers.

“At the Seattle Police Department, we capture a lot of data, and one of the data points we were capturing was how many people who were complaining of pain or discomfort from handcuffs,” the deputy chief said.

As use-of-force reports were broken down last year, it was noticed that a significant portion was “type 1 use-of-force,” which encompasses handcuff pain. There were two main issues cited: Pain upon placing the handcuffs on a person and discomfort in arms and shoulders, etc. after being in handcuffs for an extended period of time.

That means officers have to take the time to document the pain or injury from the handcuffs. Therefore, more comfortable handcuffs means less painful paperwork.

Seattle’s comfortable handcuffs

The data prompted a search in late 2018. Was there a more comfortable, less strenuous handcuff set out there? After trying out a few models, the department settled on an option with a few differences.

“We found (a set) that was a little more light weight than the ones we had, the channels were gauged a little differently, they had a little bit more beveling on the edges so they weren’t as abrupt on the edges,” Garth-Green said.

Since the effort began in January, every patrol officer has been provided the new model of more comfortable handcuffs. Officers have the option of a chain or a hinge model, the only difference being how well hands can twist or turn while in them. SPD has supplied one set of the new cuffs to each patrol officer. But Garth-Green notes that officers carry two or three handcuffs at a time, so they likely still have the classic steel models, too.

As the old models wear out, the new ones will be phased in more and more. Hinged handcuffs cost $55 per unit; regular chain handcuffs cost $50. The department ordered a mix of both varieties, starting with 500 for the first order. Eventually, everyone in the department, beyond the patrol officers, will have a set.

The old steel model is a bit cheaper. Old handcuffs that are no longer of use will be recycled.

Deputy Chief Garth-Green says he doesn’t expect to see too much of a decline in pain from being restrained for an extended period of time. But so far, anecdotally, he says the results are positive.

“If it continues the way we believe it is going, and with what we are seeing right now, then we will make sure we replace everything with them,” he said.

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Seattle police get new handcuffs for comfort’s sake