Fallen police officers honored at Niles Police memorial ceremony

In honor of National Police Week, officials from the village of Niles and the Niles Police Department gathered Wednesday morning to honor police officers killed while on duty.

A ceremony for Police Officers Memorial Day took place outside of the Niles police station on May 15. About 25 people showed up to pay their respects and hear remarks from Mayor George Alpogianis and Police Chief Luis Tigera.

“These brave individuals take the oath to serve and protect citizens. They answer a vital calling and accept a profound responsibility to protect the innocent and serve the community with honor,” Tigera said.

Tigera continued, “Today we are here to honor all the fallen, but especially one of our own: Steve Zourkas #165.”

Officer Zourkas, a five-year veteran of the Niles Police Department, was killed in a car accident April 8, 2005, when he was responding to a call and veered off the road to avoid striking a pedestrian, according to the village of Niles website. A plaque with his name is at the Niles Police Memorial.

Only police officers killed in the line of duty were mentioned at the ceremony, Deputy Chief Nick Zakula said. However, in 2020, the Niles police department also grieved the deaths of three of its members who were not on duty, which Zakula called a “tragic loss.”

Sgt. Joseph Lazo, Community Service Officer Michael White and retired Detective Joseph Paglia died in a motorcycle crash in Texas. The three had traveled there from Illinois to ride with the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, which supports officers who have been seriously injured or killed in the line of duty. The man who struck and killed the three, plus a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was convicted of four intoxicated manslaughter charges in Kerr County, Texas, in 2022 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, per the Hill Country Community Journal.

On Tuesday, Niles Police Department chaplain Al Lopez led a prayer for police officers and the Color Guard presented its flags at the ceremony.

Alpogianis used his remarks to salute officers and applaud the winner of the Democratic primary for Cook County State’s Attorney, Eileen O’Neil Burke. “We pushed real hard to get (her) elected,” Alpogianis said. “These guys that are coming out, spreading all this (crime)… they have to stay in jail. We want to make sure these tragedies are not happening any more.”

Alpogianis also said that police officers have been mischaracterized throughout the country in recent years. “They’re not being seen as who they are, but we do. It’s up to us elected officials,” he said.

In his closing prayer, Lopez honored slain Chicago officers Luis Huesca, Andres Vasquez-Lasso, Aréanah Preston, and Ella French. He also honored officers Jacob Derbin, Alden Elliott, Sam Poloche and Joshua Eyer, who were killed in the execution of a search warrant on April 30 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

National Police Week runs from May 12 to May 18.