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Putting cuffs on a sleeping giant

I have a few sayings I teach my students regarding officer safety, and one of them is “let sleeping giants sleep”


Rookie cops often want to wake up sleeping suspects for questioning before cuffing them.


As a fulltime trainer, I run scenario-based training for my students, and some of that training includes responding to domestic violence calls.

In one of the scenarios, the officers arrive to find the wife holding a bloody rag to her head – she tells the officers that her husband has assaulted her by hitting her in the head with a frying pan. She says he is drunk and violent. She tells the officers her husband is asleep in the backroom.

All too frequently, one of the students will go back to the bedroom and wake the suspect in order to question him. This usually results in a fight breaking out. Obviously, a better plan might be for both officers to go back to handcuff the suspect and then wake him up. In any event, the moral of the scenario is, “Let sleeping giants sleep.”

A Little History

My shift started at 1800 and would end at 0600 the following morning. It was winter but temperatures had been mild as springtime was approaching.

I arrived at the bar that night in response to a complaint of several people fighting. I identified the parties involved and determined it didn’t require an arrest but I did cite one of the subjects. He was about six feet, four inches tall – big and drunk. He seemed nice enough at the time as I wrote out the ticket for disorderly conduct. He had gotten into the usual argument with a couple of locals. He was from out of town but used to spend his summers when he was a kid in my jurisdiction. I released him and started to talk with the bartender.

The bartender told me that the suspect’s father was a military man and that he and several of his friends had decided to do an experiment on their male children. He explained that each of the boys had been trained in martial arts, weapons and firearms in an attempt to make soldiers out of them. He told me that a book had even written about the experiment. He went on to explain that the experiment had backfired – because of the severity of the training most of the boys had developed psychological and chemical abuse problems. I counted my blessings that the suspect had been in a good mood and had not decided to demonstrate his talents on me.

The rest of the shift went along without much happening in the little town.

At 0530 the radio silence was broken by dispatch requesting I respond to a residence in regard to an unwanted person. The homeowners had awakened to find a man passed out on the floor of their kitchen. I arrived and spoke with the elderly male homeowner. He said he had tried to wake the suspect to get him out of the house and when that failed, he called the police.

The suspect was lying on his side facing the kitchen cabinets. A deputy would come on at 0600 and I would have to pick up my partner at the same time for shift change so backup, as usual, would be slow in coming if I needed it. I thought about trying to wake him but decided to cuff him first. I grabbed the one hand that was in view and quickly secured it. I pulled his second hand out and cuffed that one just as he was starting to wake. Initially, he struggled against the cuffs but I explained to him where he was and what was going on.

This seemed to calm him.

Three Big Things

As I rolled him onto his backside and stood him up I noticed three things.

The first was a kitchen knife lying on the floor where he had just been. The owner identified it as his and that the suspect must have taken it out of the drying rack that was on the kitchen counter. Apparently he had decided to curl up armed before taking a nap.

The second was the rifle leaning against the wall that had been hidden from my view when I came in. It had been behind the door as I focused on the suspect. A friend of the homeowner would explain later that the old man kept the .22 loaded with birdshot in case dogs got into his garbage cans.

The third thing was that my sleeping giant was my suspect from the night before. I let out a sigh of relief, imagining what could have happened if the old man had actually awakened the suspect. I was also relieved the burglar hadn’t had time to put the knife or rifle to use on me.

He would be charged with burglary and damage to property. After he was transported to jail, phone calls started coming in about vandalism to vehicles. Following his tracks in the snow, it appeared that after he left the bar he staggered through the neighborhood entering several vehicles attempting to escape the cold and find a place to sleep. While in the cars he had apparently gotten restless and trashed the interiors. His steps also indicated he had tried to enter several other homes but was unsuccessful because they were locked.

I have a few sayings I teach my students regarding officer safety:

  • “Stop, listen, look, then approach.”
  • “Control, then cuff.”
  • “Cuff, then search.”


  • “Let sleeping giants sleep.”

This article, originally published 08/19/2011, has been updated.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.

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