rich bar

The cops pulled their weapons and ordered him to drop the gun. The suspect was incoherent. The police could tell he could not hear them. One of the officers, Joe Zallo, tackled the man and got him face down on the street. Steve said despite the fact he was riddled with bullets, but the man put up a fight to keep hold of his gun. “A few seconds passed before Joe was able to get hold of the weapon and put the cuffs on,” Steve recalled. “When Joe stood up, he was covered with blood.”

When someone who’s had little or no contact with criminals witnesses a police officer acting aggressively toward someone on the street, they often get the impression that cops are violent people who enjoy preying on victims. But the reality is just the opposite. Bystanders at the scene, unaware the man was armed, must have wondered why it was necessary for a police officer to tackle someone who was so badly wounded. 

Steve Bonano was born on Hunts Point Avenue in the Bronx, home to the infamous “Fort Apache.” His father Tony, was from Puerto Rico; his Mom, Vivian, the Dominican Republic. When Steve worked patrol he was assigned to the city’s toughest beats including the 42nd, 44th and 46th Precincts. As he faced down gangs, drug dealers, petty thieves and armed assailants, he learned the nuances of what it takes to be an effective cop – a complicated process of knowing when to negotiate, when to sympathize, when to protect and when to exert authority. Steve learned the hard way that enforcing the law is a power struggle; a battle of sorts that always has to be won by the officer, hopefully without using force. The first time Steve witnessed one of his fellow officers critically wounded, he came to the startling realization that he’s taken a solemn oath to run towards a threat, no matter what the risk, and do whatever he can to stop it.

Steve worked as an undercover in Vice, a pilot in Aviation where he gets into trouble using a helicopter for a foot pursuit, and then as a commander of the Emergency Service Unit and the 23rd and 34th Precincts. He dealt with negativity from some people because he’s Hispanic, despite the fact that affirmative action had nothing to do with his promotions. Steve, who almost flunked physics in high school, aced the captain’s exam and earned a Master’s degree from Harvard.

Steve came a long way from the day at a pool in the Bronx when at fifteen-years-old he witnessed an older cop take on scores of gang members—a watershed moment that made him want to be a cop.

Steve remembers an incident where a call came in for shots fired with the possibility of multiple victims. At the time, he had just turned twenty-one and had only been on the job for a year. “You could tell this was going to be a bad one and my partner hit the gas. It was dusk. We made our way to the location and you could see a caravan of red police lights. Every one of those officers was rushing towards the unknown. While they raced towards danger not one of them was thinking about the risk to themselves or that something bad might happen. Looking at all those police cars and those brave cops, I began to understand that law enforcement is not a job, it’s a calling; a profession where we take an oath to protect the innocent and apprehend those who hurt them. It made me so proud to be a police officer.”