For 12 years as a lieutenant in the NYPD’s equipment section, Joe Bevilacqua found he was doing “merry-go-round purchasing” for cheap traffic control items like flares and cones, which are often ignored by the public and don’t last long. And there were frustrating challenges in dealing with wood sawhorse barricades or steel bicycle barriers.
“Those barriers are difficult to store, difficult to handle, and they need a lot of manpower to set up and break down,” said Bevilacqua, 45, of Smithtown. The barriers are also only stored in a Queens warehouse, he said, so there could be big delays in getting to scenes.
With all this in mind, in 2009 Bevilacqua came up with an idea that would become the Retracta-Cade, a portable, retractable barrier now on the market through a joint venture with Hauppauge-based Visiontron Corp.
“I said, ‘In this day and age, there should be a product that police officers should have readily available to them for rapid deployment,’ ” Bevilacqua said.
Now he faces the challenge of convincing law enforcement agencies and other bureaucracies to change the way they do things.
Then four years shy of retirement — he had previously served as a police officer, working transit and investigating shootings — he tinkered with his idea and researched local crowd-control companies before reaching out to Visiontron in 2012.
Visiontron vice president Bryan Torsiello said the company, which has been manufacturing other crowd-control products since 1964, liked the concept “and that it had the backing of someone with real-life experience.”
From there, “We took it from concept to reality,” Torsiello said.
A year later, Bevilacqua retired from the NYPD and struck a deal with Visiontron. The barriers launched in November 2014.
The patent-pending Retracta-Cades weigh 37 pounds apiece and expand from 4 feet to 10 feet in less than 30 seconds, Bevilacqua said. They are made from rust-proof anodized aluminum and impact-resistant plastic, designed to withstand heavy use, and can connect using extension locks on each side for a continuous line of barriers.
The Retracta-Cades also have options for changeable signage such as “DWI CHECKPOINT,” rechargeable light kits that double as road flares, and reflective decals.
Experts said that aside from convincing slow-moving bureaucracies to change their minds about products they have become accustomed to, Bevilacqua and Visiontron have another major hurdle: pricing. Retracta-Cades retail for about $900, compared to other barriers that can cost as little as $100 each.
“What they have to do is demonstrate that the increase in expense is worth the increase of the product — not only that the functionality is better than what’s in the market,” said Bernie Ryba, a business adviser at the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center.
Bevilacqua said that’s just what he’s trying to do.
“I’m trying to get first responders out of the mind-set of, ‘Well, I could buy a plastic or a wooden barrier for a couple of hundred dollars,’” which only last a year to 1 ½ years, from his experience. “If you buy the Retracta-Cade for $900, and it lasts 10 years, how many wooden barriers have you gone through in that same amount of time?”
Retracta-Cade clients include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which bought 500 units, the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management and the NASA Kennedy Space Center. They are being used in 20 states at colleges, universities, hospitals and police departments, as well as by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
A number of local fire departments also have Retracta-Cades.
“As far as being quick, efficient barricades for the fire service, they are great,” said Jim Harrington, ex-fire chief of the North Babylon Fire Department, who reached out to Bevilacqua in 2014 while he was president of the Town of Babylon Fire Chiefs. The North Babylon Fire Department has about 10 Retracta-Cades it purchased through a Suffolk County bid.
Bevilacqua envisions Retracta-Cades inside every police patrol car and emergency response unit, as well as at police precincts and fire departments.
“I feel like the first responders deserve a good product, because I was a first responder myself. When I see them out there, it feels really good.”