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Flashback: History of criminal restraints including ‘Thumb Cuffs’ invented by Seattle police officer

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SEATTLE METROPOLITAN POLICE MUSEUM — One of the most important parts of catching bad guys — is keeping them caught.

Officer Jim Ritter with the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum talks about the history of criminal restraints in ‘Flashback’.

“Restraining prisoners has always been a necessity for police throughout history to keep suspects from assaulting officers while being transported to and from crime scenes, police stations, jails and courts.”

“Handcuffs, leg irons and other devices used to restrain criminals has changed immensely over the years and has ranged from medieval concepts and quirky designs and some very practical devices that have saved countless law enforcement officers throughout the years.”

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“In the 1890`s before handcuffs were used a `Come Along` was the device of choice. It was a lightweight chain-like device where officers who walked the beat could carry in their pockets. They would simply wrap the chain around a suspect`s wrist and twist, causing immense pressure on their nerves. Later on the `Iron Claw` was developed. This is a device that could also be kept in a pocket or a holder. It would basically be opened like a claw, the mouth would open, be placed around the suspect`s wrist, twisted shut and the officer could lead the suspect all the way to jail. The other devices used were, of course, the handcuffs which have changed in designs over the years. Leg irons which were put around a suspect`s legs to keep him from escaping either a work detail or from jail and years later the `Thumb cuffs.` This particular device was invented by a Seattle police officer in the late 1920`s and used for several years after. The only bad thing about this is when you have a suspect`s thumbs in this device and he got violent he could actually tear his thumbs from his hands. This device was soon abolished. And the best for last, many of you have seen the old `Ball and Chain` which was used back in the 1880`s and 1890`s. That was replaced with the `Oregon Boot,’ a big steel collar that weighed about 30 pounds. It was resting on a frame that would be screwed into the bottom of the prisoner`s boots and the prisoner would wear this throughout the day to prevent escape.”

“Although some of these designs appear more comfortable than others, the basic concept was to maintain control over some very out of control suspects, many of whom would try to assault or kill the police officers escorting them.”

“The bottom line is if you stay out of trouble you don`t have to wear them.”

“And that`s the way it was. I`m Officer Jim Ritter and this is `Flashback.’

If you have questions about law enforcement history, email Ofc. Ritter at

To find out more about the museum, go to

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