NILES, Ill. — Santa is leaving his sleigh at the North Pole and riding shotgun in a slightly different mode of transportation.

It’s Christmas week which means quick pitstops in Niles.  

“Santa is very excited. He’ll be riding in our police vehicles. It’s going to be a treat,” said Kevin Regal, a school resource officer for Niles Police Department.  

It’s a special stop ahead of Santa’s round-the-world on Saturday.  

“The schools gave us seven families to work with and then the Niles Fire Department gave us an extra family, so eight in total in the Village of Niles and ready to spread some cheer,” Regal said. 

Melissa Sanchez and her family are among those making the “nice” list this year as part of the police department’s annual Operation Santa.

“This is kind of what we needed from them,” Sanchez said of her children. “It’s amazing.”

“Operation Santa is the best event I work on,” said Niles PD Deputy Chief Nick Zakula. “It was something that started back in the 80s for the Niles Police Department and then [Chief of Police  Luis C. Tigera] took over in 2017 and resurrected it.”

 The Niles Police Department joins forces with other public safety partners around the village to drop off gifts galore for families that need a little extra holiday cheer.  

“You never know what people are dealing with at Christmastime,” Zakula said.

Despite it being Santa’s busiest week, he’ll be back for an extra visit again next year – and each year, after that, according to Niles police.  

Added Regal: “This is going to be a yearly thing.”