Joseph Bonafede is an expert at breaking and entering. For much of his career, he specialized in sneaking into buildings where he wasn’t wanted, doing his job, and leaving without a trace. He can pick locks and spot a hidden camera with ease.
“There’s definitely a pucker factor when you’re doing it, but there’s a lot of reward,” Bonafede says. His biggest score in this job was $1 million in cash, which earned him a commendation from the mayor of New York City.
Here it is important to note that Bonafede is a retired police officer. As a member of the NYC police technical services department, Bonafede set up wiretaps, GPS tracking devices, cell phone interceptions, and hidden cameras. He would often sneak into organized crime locations and install hidden cameras and listening devices to gather evidence on gang leaders.
Now, years after his retirement, Bonafede has turned his talent for creating and placing hidden cameras into a thriving business. Bonafede’s company, Technocality, has grown from a small consultancy into a major supplier of covert security systems to retailers around the country. In January the company moved from a home office into a former home theater store on Nottingham Way in Hamilton.
The company specializes in custom-building hidden cameras to keep tabs on shoplifters or intruders. For example, the smoke alarm camera they build doesn’t look like a hidden camera disguised as a smoke alarm — it just looks like a smoke alarm.
How Bonafede acquired the skills to run this operation is a story in itself.
Bonafede grew up in Staten Island, where his father owned a Coca-Cola route, and his mother was a homemaker. He learned his tinkering skills at a young age by helping his father repair the vending machines and never really stopped. A graduate of the City University of New York, Bonafede’s first job out of school was for the phone company installing alarms, phone systems, and closed circuit television systems. Bonafede dreamed of using those skills for law enforcement, so as a first step, he joined the department of corrections and worked there until a slot opened up on the police force.
Like most officers, Bonafede started off at the bottom, working on foot patrol in Chinatown. Bonafede’s career took a major turn one day thanks to his skills at poking around houses. One day, while helping detectives search a house for a murder weapon, Bonafede started tapping on walls and floors with a hammer. His search revealed a loose floorboard, which he lifted to discover a stash of more than $1 million in cash. A photo hangs on Bonafede’s wall of the consequences of that incident, which was a promotion to detective, newspaper headlines, and a photo of him shaking the mayor’s hand.
In his new job in the technical services department, Bonafede learned to covertly place camera systems in gang hangouts. He assisted in the takedowns of several major organized crime figures..
He also set up cell phone tracking systems that were used in hostage cases. Later, Bonafede used his technical expertise to help the department set up a citywide microwave network that would allow surveillance cameras to transmit data to a central location. One of the nodes of this network was located on top of One World Trade Center, and he happened to be in the building servicing it on the morning of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bonafede stayed on the scene afterwards, using tracking equipment to try to locate cell phone signals from any potential survivors. He retired shortly after the attacks.
Bonafede became a security consultant and did jobs like installing security systems and sweeping locations for bugs. (Having installed them himself, he knows where to look.) His business has been on a steady incline over the past seven years, and he has brought family members on board to help him out in addition to hiring 20 employees around the country.
He has occasionally returned to law enforcement as a consultant, and even set up a covert camera in Louisiana that helped bust a stolen car ring. Technocality also does covert surveillance for private investigators, but most of its business comes from the retail sector, mostly for large chains. “We install a lot of covert cameras,” Bonafede says. “Typically, we try to think like the bad guy. He will see a camera in the corner of a store with a certain field of view,” Bonafede explains. Technocality will try to place hidden cameras that can catch a thief when he thinks he’s hidden. For example, the company will take a real smoke detector, utility box, or wi-fi router and put a tiny high-definition camera inside so it’s visually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Bonafede says stores are less concerned about individual shoplifters than with “booster teams” of highly skilled thieves who steal lots of high value items at once.
Bonafede, who lives in Hopewell and has three daughters in college, says his wife Ellen has been instrumental in the success of the business even before she helped run it as vice president. “She allowed me to work crazy hours,” Bonafede says. “The key to my success was letting her do her own thing knowing I had nothing to worry about and then she would do the same for me.”
He also credits his father with teaching business skills as well as technical ones. “He was instrumental in all of our lives,” Bonafede says. “When I started Technocality, he guided me along the way. He was always talking about how to deal with customers and treating your people right. Along the way I’ve had many mentors, but my dad was the biggest one.”
Technocality, Inc, 1701 Nottingham Way, Hamilton 08619; 646-723-4410; Joseph Bonafede, president. www.technocality.net.