Handcuff and Search Guidelines

If you need to handcuff and search a subject, the 'survival rule' is control first, handcuff second and then and ONLY then search. The information on this page is the same information taught in correctional services and police training courses.

Legally, mechanical restraint devices are not a weapon unless used as a weapon. Be appropriate and professional at all times with all such devices and you will avoid accusations and litigation against yourself and your agency.

There are four main reasons why an officer would handcuff a subject:

Personal Safety
Public’s Safety
Subject’s Safety
Prevent Escape

Become familiar with your handcuffs. They can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Ensure that they are in good operating condition: Check for binding between the single and double strand. Check for rust in the rivet. Ensure that the lock and double lock mechanism work properly. Feel how much pressure is required to unlock your handcuffs. Ensure your pouch is accessible and the cuffs are not double locked when stored.


You may search anyone you arrest incident to the arrest, however, the Supreme Court of Canada states that all searches must be conducted in a reasonable manner. A search cannot be used to intimidate, ridicule, or pressure the accused in order to obtain admissions of guilt or information.

Our civilian authority to search a person comes primarily from Common Law. When we are conducting a personal search, we are looking primarily for Weapons. In some cases loss prevention officers may conduct searches to recover stolen property. This search must be in line with the provisions of the Criminal Code powers of arrest pursuant to section 494. Means of escape must not be overlooked, however more thorough searches are normally left for the police. Common law allows POLICE to also search & seize anything that might be evidence of criminal offences. Do not ignore such things if you find them during a weapon search. Seize them, note the location and turn all items over to the police immediately.

If you are going to conduct a personal search;
Gain Control
Then Search
Maintain Control at All Times

Impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Section 7 of the Charter states: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Section 8 goes on to state: "Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure."

The interpretation of what is or is not reasonable, is or is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice or when a person has been unjustly deprived of their personal security is ultimately found in case law where these subjects have been argued before the courts. Professionals are well advised to familiarize themselves with “best practices” and cases where benchmark decisions have already been made.

The four rules when conducting a personal search for weapons are:

Make it Legal
Make it Thorough
Make it Methodical
Make it Safe

Remember, if the search is not reasonable, it cannot be legal.

The Use Of Force
To Effect Your Purpose

If the arrest is legal the search is therefore legal! If you use force to affect the arrest, then you can expect that a search for weapons may be necessary by force. Consider this carefully before trying it. Can you safely maintain control until the police arrive and let them do it? Is it dangerous if you don’t?

There are two primary methods of arrest protocols, active (resistive) and passive (compliant). The method you choose will be dictated by the subject’s behavior and the circumstances involved at the time.

Remember your justifications to use force and exercise good judgment and restraint when attempting to arrest, apply handcuffs and conduct a weapons check. Use appropriate force to gain control, handcuff, and then consider a search for weapons IF circumstances warrant it and/or the arrival of the police is not imminent!

Types of Weapons

The Criminal Code of Canada defines “weapon” as any object or item that is intended to be used as a weapon(paraphrased). This could be many things not necessarily designed as a weapon such as pens, keys, skateboards, portable CD players, bottles, or items of opportunity such as chairs, phones, ashtrays, or bikes. Keep an open mind when it comes to potential weapons!

Types of Personal Searches

While there are three types of personal searches, field or frisk search, strip searches and body cavity searches we will restrict ourselves to the field or frisk search. Your employer may require you to perform more comprehensive searches, such as in correctional services settings, prisoner transport etc. If so you will need specific training as per your agencies needs and protocols.

Suggested Search Guidelines for Civilian Personnel

It goes without saying that any person taken into custody must be very closely monitored and controlled. Once in custody they are your responsibility!

An arrested person showing active resistant or assaultive behavior will likely need to be physically restrained until the arrival of the police. Keeping in mind that the safety of all involved is your primary objective and control is the key, search is a secondary focus.

Cursory field searches are highly recommended when the person is openly displaying a weapon, such as a knife in a belt sheath, or is attempting to access a possible weapon concealed on his person. This doesn’t mean a total search! It means remove obvious weapons, check the area of reach, control your prisoner and wait for the police.

Never attempt to search anyone for weapons who is not properly restrained and under control.

Steps in Conducting Personal Searches for Weapons

In addition to the four rules for conducting a personal search, there are four steps to safely complete a search.

Look - L
Ask - A
Clear -C
Touch -T

This is commonly referred to as the L.A.C.T. principle.

Look at the area about to be searched
Ask the subject if he/she has anything on them that could injure you
Clear the area with an object such as a pen, mini light etc.
Touch the area by gently crimping the clothing

Never put your hands in an area to which you have not applied the LACT principle.

Employ parallel tactical communication. Tell the subject what you want them to do.

Constantly be aware of your surroundings while you are conducting the search. Conduct threat scans if you are not in a secure environment.

Tactical Considerations

There are three basic tactical considerations which may determine where you conduct your search for weapons:

Hostile environment
Poor lighting
Presence of the public

Remember, this is a physical skill, practice often as all physical skills are perishable skills.

A person is subject to assault charges in Canada if they openly wear or display a weapon and accost another person. Other related sections of the Criminal Code deal with carrying concealed weapons and the use of weapons during the commission of offences.

What does this mean for civilians such as Security Personnel? Every circumstance and subject behavior will be different. There are also the security personnel’s impacting factors to consider. What we are talking about here is judgment or 'officer discretion'.

If you have taken a person into custody they are your responsibility. If you see any object that can be used as a weapon, and they have access to it, remove it. Explain what you are doing and why. Don’t be afraid to state your legal authority for doing so if asked. If the subject starts trying to access hidden items, control them, handcuff them (if you haven't already) and search the immediate area for weapons.

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