Officer Michael Nilles Receives Highest Honor in Law Enforcement;
Ten Additional Officers Honored for Outstanding Service
New York, Nov. 6 — Officer Michael Nilles of the Aurora Police Department has been named the 2008 Police Officer of the Year by PARADE magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police for his work in solving several cold cases that have put violent criminals behind bars.
The highest honor in law enforcement, the Police Officer of the Year Award, which is announced in this Sunday’s issue of PARADE, will be presented to Officer Nilles, 43, at a ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 11, in San Diego, Calif., during the annual conference of the IACP. An additional 10 officers will receive honorable mentions.
Police officers across America face challenges including gangs, drugs, Internet crime, and terrorism. Even as high-tech methods of crime solving find their way into most departments, the key to outstanding police work often remains old-fashioned determination, tenacity, and legwork.
Determined to solve four cold-case homicides, Officer Nilles led a yearlong investigation that resulted in the arrest of 31 gang suspects charged with 179 counts of first-degree murder, some dating back to 1989.
Working with Special Agent Cory McGookin of the FBI, Nilles noticed that there had been no follow-up in a number of old federal plea agreements involving alleged murder suspects in Aurora. Using that as a starting point, the two officers went all over the United States and Mexico to interview witnesses who could testify. Many of the victims were rivals of the Latin Kings gang. But one of the more poignant incidents involved the death of 6-year-old Nico Contreras, the inadvertent victim of a gang grudge. The boy was killed when, on a visit to his grandparents, he slept in his uncle’s bed. Five shots were fired into the room early on the morning of Nov. 10, 1996. But it took more than 10 years to bring charges in the case. Now one suspect has been convicted of first-degree murder; another awaits trial.
“The hardest part of the job is not dealing with the gang members,” says Nilles, who has a photo of Nico on his desk. “It’s talking to the victims’ mothers and fathers. I was just happy to give Nico’s family some closure.”
Nilles ultimately put the leader of the Latin Kings out of business. “Angel ‘Doc’ Luciano was a guy I was dealing with when I first came on the job in 1988,” says Nilles. “He was just convicted of a 1989 murder and, being one of the most influential gang leaders, it makes this whole thing worthwhile.” But Nilles will not take sole credit. “We would not have been able to do this without the cooperation of the FBI, the Kane County state attorney’s office, and fellow Aurora officers,” he says. Twenty-five to 30 trials are pending. “I’ll be going to court to testify for the next few years,” says Nilles.
In addition, 10 officers will receive honorable mentions at the Police Service Awards luncheon. They are: Detective David Quinn of the Atlanta Police Department; Officer Wesley Magnum of the San Diego Police Department; Lt. Brian Sturgill of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; Detective Supervisor Lillie Franklin of the Los Angeles Police Department Commercial Crimes Division; Officer Kimberly McHugh and Detective James Wright, both of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.; Sgt. Keith R. Benjamin of the Chandler, Ariz., Police Department; Trooper Aaron Reimer of the Ohio State Highway Patrol; and Officer Ben Humphrey and Officer Jason Newton, both of the Sherwood, Ore., Police Department. The Los Angeles Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau also will be recognized.
The Police Service Awards were established by PARADE and the IACP in 1966 to focus attention on the dedicated men and women of our nation’s police force. They are given for specific acts of valor, consistent service above and beyond the call of duty, development of innovative programs, and significant service to the community apart from police work.
For more information, contact Meredith Ward, staff liaison, 1-800-THE-IACP Ext. 226.