Fox on the Beach – NYPD Chief Steve Bonano, a Person of Service
Back in 1979, at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, a student was robbed. NYPD Cops in plain clothes were chasing the guy who did it. Another student, Steve Bonano, actually jumped in and helped them grab him. That was all Steve needed to set his sights on joining the NYPD, and living a life of service. Starting out in the Bronx 46 Precinct, he quickly earned a reputation for being a great cop with a keen eye for guns. He knew that with every gun he took off the street, he potentially saved a life. He excelled throughout his career, working in elite high enforcement and specialty units throughout the NYPD, including Anti Crime, Aviation, and Emergency Service.
Steve took his job very seriously, but never himself. He knew how to laugh with others, but especially at himself. As he rose through the ranks, one never felt anything but comfortable in his presence. He continually made new friends, but he held onto, and cherished his old ones, those he worked with, and those he hung out with before joining the NYPD. That is certainly a commentary on his character.
In 2009 I was fortunate to have Steve join me as a partner, my Executive Officer when I was Chief of Brooklyn South. It was of course always a serious job, but I don’t think I laughed more in my career than I did working with Steve. Before that, I knew him casually, and I always heard great things about him, but in those years we worked together I got to experience it firsthand. Steve told stories very well and with his extensive career in policing, he had plenty to choose from. His favorite to tell, and one of my favorites to hear, was when he was a captain in ESU, and he and his team took “Ming of Harlem,” a full-grown tiger, into custody.
Antoine Yates, a Harlem taxi cab driver, took home a cat he adopted named Shadow, but his pet tiger, Ming, who was three years old and 400 pounds, didn’t like the idea. As soon as Shadow came into the apartment, Ming lunged at him. Antoine suffered bites in his legs and arms when he got between them. The doctors at the hospital were suspicious when he told him he had been bitten by his dog, so they called the police. I felt like I was an ESU Cop on the scene of the drama as Steve told his story of the drilling of holes and inserting of cameras through multiple rooms until the cops were just on the other side of the wall of this full-grown tiger.
The highlight of the story was Steve’s description of PO Martin Duffy being slowly lowered down from the roof, giving steady and calm directions, “lower, lower, lower …” When he got to the perfect spot there was a hesitation as he lined up his shot. He fired. Ming made a roaring charge at him. Martin screamed into the radio, “DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!!”
In his 30 years of service, Steve was involved in many other high-profile incidents, including commanding much of the rescue efforts at “Ground Zero” in the months after September 11th, 2001. He responded there that day and worked at the scene every day after. As we know, there were about 3,000 people who died that day, but even more, have since died from diseases because of their exposure to the site. In 2012, some lesions started appearing on Steve’s skin. Hoping for the best, he went to a dermatologist, but the best was not to be. Steve had an extremely rare cancer (BPDCN). Eight years ago this month, on January 17th, 2015, Chief Steven Bonano passed away.
Steve was a United States Navy veteran, an NYPD Cop/Chief, who did it all. He was big in stature and even larger in his compassion for others. He was true courage. And I saw that courage show itself in his final years and months, and in his final days, when he fought the first fight he could not win. But like everything he did in life, he did it with class and dignity, and with compassion for the people around him; his fiancé Miriam, his parents Vivian and Tony, and all of those who did all they could to help him.
Thank you, Steve, for the model of service and humanity that you have shown so many. We will never forget you.
Joe Fox is a retired NYPD Chief, with over 37 years of experience, motivational speaker, author, business consultant, leadership/life coach, U.S. Department of Justice Medal of Valor Review Board Member, Board of Directors, Rockaway’s 9/11/01 Tribute Park, Board of Directors 5Star Life Insurance Company, serving US Military and first responders, social media influencer and digital creator.