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By Russell Working
Chicago Tribune

AURORA, Ill. - Investigations of cold cases, including the shocking shooting death of a boy, earned Aurora Police Officer Michael Nilles the 2008 Police Officer of the Year award given by an international police group and a national magazine.
An article and photo of Nilles will appear in Sunday's edition of the national magazine, as well as at
The award, jointly given by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, doesn't include money but carries the prestige of being recognized by one's peers. Plus, Parade has flown Nilles and his family to San Diego for an awards ceremony this Sunday.
Nilles, 43, is the third Illinois police officer to win the award. Ten other officers around the country earned honorable mentions.
When Nico Contreras, 6, was shot to death while sleeping in his uncle's bed in 1996, the crime shocked the west suburban city and officers vowed to find the gunman.
But it wasn't until Nilles and FBI Special Agent Cory McGookin took over the cold case years later that the suspects were nabbed in 2006. The accused gunman has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial. A second man who took part in the crime was found guilty in April.
Nilles' and McGookin's work was part of a sweep -- Operation First-Degree Burn -- that included the FBI, the Kane County state's attorney's office and Aurora police and resulted in the arrest of 31 alleged gang members suspected of 179 counts of first-degree murder dating to 1989.
Reached in San Diego, Nilles said that if someone had told him he would be helping to arrest 31 suspects on first-degree murder charges, "I would've said there was no way. We would've been satisfied with half these guys, but when we got them all, it was just amazing."

Wire Service
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