Police Chief Michael Camilli Lives His Life Inspired By an Untimely Death

Police Chief Michael Camilli, a longtime Heights policeman, turned his health around after the death of Mayor Alex Lopez.

Chief Michael Camilli has served in the Chicago Heights Police Department for 35 years.

He began as a patrol officer, then special division, narcotics officer, detective, supervisor, watch commander and finally became the chief after Mayor Alex Lopez appointed him. 

"I've had some memorable moments," Camilli said of his long career, but helping protect the President of the United States ranks high on his list.

"I did security for President Ronald Reagan when he visited," Camilli explained. "He came to . I was a young detective at the time. The Secret Service called upon the whole department to assist. It was amazing to be in a detail in your own hometown at Bloom High School, where I graduated from, working with the presidential staff." 

The chief said he wouldn't want to do anything else, remembering each moment of his time with the department as if it was yesterday.

"When George (H.W.) Bush ran for president . . . he came to Chicago Heights and he brought along Arnold Schwarzenegger," Camilli remembered. "The Terminator movie had just come out. There was excitement throughout the city. Again, I got to serve. We sat on the rooftops with rifles serving as snipers for the Secret Service protecting the Vice President (Bush) at the time.  I've had a very good career here in Chicago Heights. The citizens here have helped me do that."

Off-Duty Duties

Throughout Camilli's tireless work at the , he still found time to volunteer.  

"I did volunteer work with juvenile services with Bloom Township and through the Cook County State's Attorney's Office," he explained. "I donated my time the first few years because I wanted to give first time juvenile offenders a second look at life and try and mediate their situation with their victim."

Camilli eventually found other ways to serve the community, being appointed as a trustee at Prairie State College in 2000 when a member left the board. In 2001, he chose to run in the election to retain his seat. 

"Surprisingly, I won," Camilli exclaimed. "I was the top vote-getter in 2001 for the PSC Board of Trustees."

But six years later duty called and Camilli had to prioritize.

"In 2007, when my police duties increased, I had to give something up," the chief said. "It wasn't going to be my job or my family so I gave up my position at Prairie State College."

Regardless of having to give up the position, Camilli said he is proud of the work he did with Prairie State.

"I was able to help get things done for the community while I was there," Camilli said. "During my term, we made improvements to the Pioneer Fieldhouse, the opening of the training outreach center, the opening of the children's center, improvements to the lights and security in the parking lots. One of the largest accomplishments was being able to enter inner-collegiate sports. Basketball, cross country and volleyball were now into league competition."

The Chief's Big Loss

Camilli was one month away from being placed on insulin when the sudden death of Mayor Alex Lopez made him rethink the direction his life was taking. 

"I have an older brother who is a diabetic," Camilli said of his family's unfortunate medical history. "I have a younger brother on an insulin pump and my father died at the age of 61. We have a short lifespan."

Despite all of his accomplishments Camilli's most recent feat is literally the closest to his heart. The chief has lost 50 pounds over the past year, inspired by the untimely death of his friend Mayor Alex Lopez and a warning from his doctor.

"I remember when Alex passed away, the mayor who made me chief," Camilli said. "It comes out that diabetes and heart issues played a major role in how he passed. It was the same time I was going for my check-up. My doctor told me we were going to discuss insulin today. I said 'No Doc, not me.'"

As the doctor began to explain the reasoning for insulin, Camilli said he could only see defeat and giving up.

"I felt if you're on insulin, why even lose weight?" Camilli asked. "Why even eat less sugar? But because Mayor Alex died, my doctor gave me one more chance. He said I have 30 days to change."

The doctor gave Camilli a prescription, but not for medicine. He was given information for several weight lost programs and told to pick one.

"After that afternoon, I took an evaluation of my life," Camilli explained. "At that point I picked Jenny Craig. Jenny Craig has a great plan. They have great counselors and you're accountable to someone. I was able to combat it, to where today I am off all diabetic medicine.  I lost 50 pounds."

Camilli knew he was not only making a difference in his life, but that he was helping those around him as well, inspiring positive habits in his colleagues at the police department.

"This year alone, we have a lot of young police officers and we take part in the Torch Run," Camilli explained. "I've been a policeman for 35 years and have participated in the torch run by supporting it. Have I run in it? No. Not until this year. This year because of the weight loss and my exercise plan, the best way to show police officers what to do is lead by example. I ran with the Torch Run this year.  There were only two police Chiefs that ran, myself and Orland Park Chief Tim McCarthy. "

The chief proudly revealed a photo of him in the Torch Run and a card from his secretary. A note inside was written to the chief:

I would just like to tell you how proud of you and this picture I am. I think this is such an inspiration to everyone, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. A year ago, you might not have been able to do the torch run, this year you've had everyone eating your dust. I don't think it's just about losing weight. It's a life lesson. You can do anything if you put you're mind to it. Thanks, Chief. In life I think I lost that, in watching you these few months, have made me believe in that again. 

"It's not about running," Camilli said. "It's not about losing weight. It's not about getting diabetes. If you could touch other people and mentor them. If I could save one other diabetic or help someone from doing something wrong. The value system, you run your life by, that's what it 's all about. That's what I try and do everyday."

Carla Lorenzetti June 28, 2011 at 12:35 PM
This is a great story. I, also need to make that decision to take a positive aproach to a healthier lifestyle for my future. What an inspiration! Thanks so much for sharing Chief Camilli....Keep it up sir, you look great, more importantly, I bet you feel even better! Sincerely, Carla Lorenzetti
Mary Anne Mele June 28, 2011 at 02:15 PM
Having been Administrative Assistant at CHPD for 30 years, I can tell you that Chief Camilli is one of the most positive people I know. He has always been a "problem solver" and constantly aims for perfection. I am proud to have served the Department with him, and even more proud of his accomplishment in bettering his health. You done good, "Mikey!" Keep up the good work!
Debbi Hummel June 28, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Chief Camilli has been wonderful to my family and myself during his years as chief and I am proud of him for his determination to handle this problem and stay on top of it even though he is in a stressful job. You look great and good for you to be off the meds. Keep it up! Debbi Hummel
Josh Deabel June 28, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Chief Camilli is an inspiration for all to make lifestyle changes that will improve their health. He looked great out there during the torch run! Great story.
Dominic Candeloro April 12, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Keep up the good work of fostering a sense of community in the City. Though Chicago Heights faces a lot of challenges, it is in the forefront of towns in its potential for building its sense of community. Local leaders like the Chief and the Mayor should embrace every opportunity to bring residents together for the common good.


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