A few days ago, Kevin Nielsen had no idea he and his family would be attending their first New Jersey Devils game. An avid fan, Nielsen’s inaugural trip to Prudential Center on March 25 was a special occasion as the South River Police Department Sergeant was named Hero of the Game on Police Appreciation Night.
Nielsen, 53, was nominated to be the night’s hero by his dispatcher, Adam DeHanes, who helped foster Nielsen’s fandom of the team. “At work, I always ask him what’s going on,” Nielsen explained. “I try to follow Jersey teams. I’m proud of the state I was born and raised in.”
If not for DeHanes, Nielsen said he’d never have been considered for the recognition, explaining he tries to keep a low profile and go about his work quietly. “I usually like to do my job and just sink back into the force,” he said. On Wednesday, Nielsen was called by his department chief and told he was being recognized.
Nielsen first joined the South River Police Department on august 4, 1989, inspired by friends of his father. “I always saw how they cared about the people in the community where we lived, and I wanted to emulate that,” he explained. When a position opened in the department, he took the entrance exam and out of “about a few hundred” test takers, ranked No. 2.
Nearing three decades of service with the police department, Nielsen has worked on Middlesex County’s Narcotics task force, focusing on “club drugs,” while also spending time working with traffic safety, covering school crossings and traffic violations. In July 2014, Nielsen was promoted to his current rank of Sergeant, which put him in charge of a squad of four officers during the day shift.
“Day shift is service calls,” Nielsen said. “We help people who have to go to the hospital, who tend to call during the day…Taking reports, because people don’t always realize that police departments are open 24-hours, so they’ll wait until the next day to call in reports,” he explained.
This past January, a multifamily residence in South River burnt down, forcing six families from their home. Nielsen explained that many of the families had Portuguese heritage, and with his wife, Sandra, who was born and raised in Portugal, he and his family felt a kinship to the displaced families. They jumped into action.
“I have a very large garage, and my wife and I took it upon ourselves to collect clothing and furniture from the community and dispense it among the victims,” Nielsen said. Two months later, following an “overwhelming response” from the borough and nearby municipalities, the Nielsen’s are still handing out donated clothes, offering extras to women’s shelters and other similar organizations.
“One of our dispatchers posted it on our department’s Facebook page, and it was then put on South River’s Facebook page…through social media, it just grew,” Nielsen said. Thanks to the drive, children could return to school with clothing, men and women could return to work, and families were able to start piecing their lives back together.
At the game, Nielsen sported a golden pin, representing 25 years as a member of the New Jersey State Police Beneficial Association. “Being that law enforcement is here tonight, I thought I’d wear my pin,” he said.
As part of Police Appreciation Night, the Devils recognized many members of law enforcement throughout the night, including Nielsen, beginning first with a ceremonial puck drop before the start of the game. For the puck drop, the Devils honored Officer Michael Keane of Lyndhurst, who was on the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last year and helped passengers escape the wreckage. After the puck drop, the New Jersey State Police Honor Guard presented the colors, as NY/NJ Port Authority Police Officer Gil Ramos sang the national anthem.
“It’s been wonderful and exhilarating,” Nielsen said after being honored in front of the fans. The Devils invited the many police officers in attendance to stand up, and join in the salute from the fans. For a first game at The Rock, it was surely a memory Nielsen and his family will never forget.