Skip to content

Guardian of the Game: Mike Padilla

RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It's not often someone gets to follow their passion and turn that into a satisfying career that not only enriches themselves but changes the lives of others.

Mike Padilla of Nutley, N.J., our “Guardian of The Game,” has done exactly that.

As a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Nutley, Padilla realized his real calling was helping people. He dreamed about becoming a cop. With a wife (Jeannette) and two kids (JiannaMarie, Nicolette) under the age of three, Padilla made the leap.

He sat down with his wife and discussed the possibility of blowing up their lives, starting over, and becoming a police officer. Mike’s wife Jeannette, knowing him best, told him to go for it. She knew that he would be one of the most passionate and caring cops the small New Jersey town had ever seen.   

Padilla entered the police academy at the age of 30 which was different than most cops in training. He trained at the academy by day but worked at night to support his family. However, the long days didn’t deter him. He strived to do the most pushups, run the fastest mile and score highest on the tests. His excellence in the academy won him the PT (Physical Test) Award.

He officially became an officer in 2001, and that brought a whole new set of responsibilities. From the first day, Padilla wanted kids to know that if they ever had a problem or needed some help the police are safe people to reach out to.

With this goal in mind, Officer Padilla brought the PALS (Police and Lunch in Schools) program to Nutley schools. Through the program, uniformed police officers go to Nutley schools and have lunch with and interact with students in an environment in which they are already comfortable.

Along with PALS, Officer Padilla also started and continues to head the L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) program. LEAD was founded in 2015 and has become popular among New Jersey Police Departments. The program replaced DARE. The goal of the program is to educate students about drugs.

Padilla has won many awards during his 19-year tenure in Nutley. He has been named Officer of the Year, LEAD Administrator of the Year and Jaycees Public Safety Officer of the Year to name a few.   

Padilla also loves the game of football. He coached his daughters’ flag football team to a championship and then started coaching recreation league football. He is now is an assistant coach for Nutley High School football.

Padilla is now a Detective Sergeant with the Nutley Police Department, he continued to express that it takes a village to administer these programs and keep them going. He said the success of all the programs was not because of him alone but also due to the continued support of Director Alphonse Petracco, Chief Tom Strumolo, Captain Gerard Green and the army of people he’s worked with and has been supported by.   

Padilla was particularly thankful to Sam Carella, a co-worker at the Nutley Police Department for recognizing all his phenomenal work and selfless hours spent improving the lives of others. For all those reasons, Detective Sergeant Mike Padilla is our “Guardian of The Game. “

If you would like to nominate an everyday hero to be the “Guardian of the Game” for go to