Can the police handcuff you without arresting you?

If the police handcuff you without making an arrest then it can be for only one purpose: that they believe you are a threat to yourself or others. The police do not have the discretion to handcuff people on the basis that it is force policy, or because they have experience of people in the past trying to escape.

Applying handcuffs is a use of force. For that force to be legal it must be reasonable and proportionate. If you are compliant and co-operative (even in the face of police misconduct) there is no reason for the police to apply handcuffs. Nor can they justify ‘not knowing anything about you’ as a reason for handcuffing.

The police must always consider whether the force they use is necessary in the circumstances and on a case by case basis. They cannot adopt a blanket policy of handcuffing compliant detainees. If the officer does not consider whether or not his use of force is necessary before using it, that use of force automatically becomes unlawful.

Force policy does not trump an individual’s right not to be subjected to unreasonable force.
Health and safety reasons are no defence to indiscriminate handcuffing either. The police are trained law enforcers, equipped with weapons, restraints, incapacitants, and powers of arrest. If they feel the need to manacle every person they arrest for their own peace of mind, irrespective of the humiliation and suffering it causes the detainee, they should not be police officers.

If the police use handcuffs on you when you are compliant, and not showing any signs of threatening behaviour (physically or verbally), then their actions could be considered an assault and battery. This could give you grounds to sue the police for damages.