Around this time last year, Chief Michael Camilli was reflecting on his career in law enforcement.
He rattled off a laundry list of titles he's held with the police department as photojournalist Mary Compton listened and took photos. Camilli has gone from patrol officer to chief. Along the way he helped protect President Ronald Reagan, future president George H.W. Bush and future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during their time in Chicago Heights.
Now it's time to say goodbye, as the graduate retires from law enforcement June 30, exactly 36 years after his start date of July 1, 1976.
"There comes a time in life when you need to take that next step," Camilli said. “It’s going to be bittersweet. I don’t want to leave my friends behind, but honestly, it’s time for me to retire and to get into a new venture within my life.”
Family is first for the police chief, who said he will be spending a lot of time taking care of his elderly mother. Camilli said he has plenty of items to address on his "honey-do" list as well.
“The first order of business is to take care of things I haven’t been able to take care of with my family," Camilli said. "Things that I had to neglect because I had to take care of the community first.”
Mayor David Gonzalez, who was sworn-in in May 2011, said he will miss Camilli's leadership in the police department.
“I was hoping he’d stick around a little longer during my administration,” Gonzalez said. “He’s such an excellent chief, really committed to the community.”
Chicago Heights Corporation Council T.J. Somer, who was once in law enforcement himself, will miss working with Camilli for more personal reasons. He and Camilli went to the police academy together and worked together as Chicago Heights police for more than a decade.
"Mike Camilli is just going to be hard to replace for anybody," Somer said. "He is the consummate police officer. He is the consummate human being. Anybody who’s ever known Mike just has the greatest degree of respect for him. He’s just a hell of a man."
Camilli said he'll miss working with his longtime friend as well.
“T.J. comes from the same neighborhood as me," Camilli said. "We were born and raised on the west side. He went on to be an attorney, but we always stayed in contact. We’ve always been great friends.”
Somer isn't the only one Camilli is keeping in touch with. He also talks to his predecessors, Anthony Murphy, Robert F. Pinnow Jr. and Gerry Billups, who all know what it's like to be the chief of police in Chicago Heights.
"I’ve admired all of them," Camilli said. "I’ve learned things from all of them, and they always tell me, ‘When you’re ready, the light switch will go off.’ Well, the light switch has gone off.”
Despite being a cop most of his life, Camilli refuses to be defined by his role. He doesn't carry his gun around 24 hours a day or tell people he's with the police. Camilli keeps simple with everyone he meets.
"If you've ever heard people introduce me, they’ll say ‘Here’s Chief of Police Mike Camilli,’” he said. “I say ‘I’m not the chief of police, I’m Mike.’”
Take a moment to thank Mike for serving Chicago Heights for more than three decades.