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The dangers of restraining someone facedown have been recognized for a long time; fatalities occur when police training doesn’t adapt

Instructor Dave Rose demonstrates (Barry Cusak/Shutterstock)

For many years, police in the United States have been cautioned that handcuffing someone facedown could be dangerous if officers apply too much pressure or maintain the position for too long. This concern was first raised by major police departments and associations and was reinforced in a 1995 federal safety bulletin.

The bulletin advised against using prone restraint, where a person is kept on their chest, because it can severely restrict breathing. Instead, officers were urged to turn individuals onto their side once they were handcuffed.

However, an investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that some officers continue to use prone restraint in ways that are contrary to established safety guidelines. This discrepancy highlights ongoing deficiencies in police training.

Police gather on the campus (Via Marcus Harris/Shutterstock)

Over the past decade, the AP documented more than 1,000 cases where individuals died following the use of force that was not intended to be lethal, with prone restraint being the most common tactic in at least 740 of these incidents. In many instances, officers kept individuals pinned down with their knees or hands even after they were restrained, a practice that can be particularly risky for people who are obese, under the influence of drugs, or have medical conditions.

Some individuals were held in prone restraint for longer than five minutes, and in some cases, more than 10 minutes — longer than the restraint that led to George Floyd’s death in 2020, which sparked widespread public outcry.

The investigation also highlighted inconsistencies in police training across the U.S., as there is no national standard governing police practices. The federal guidance issued in 1995, cautioning against prolonged pressure on individuals, is advisory rather than legally binding.

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