By: Sergeant Angela Voorhees, CSU Northridge Police Department, CPOA Region X Membership & Communications Officer
In October 2015, the Pink Patch Project was launched at the Irwindale Police Department. What started as a grassroots awareness project at a small police department located in the northeastern portion of Los Angeles County has blossomed into more than 25 law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County actively participating in breast cancer awareness and fundraising through the Pink Patch Project.
The Pink Patch Project was born of a conversation between Chief Anthony Miranda of the Irwindale Police Department and records clerk Norma Ortiz. Norma was still recovering from the devastating journey she traveled with her mother, Sheryl Ortiz, as she battled breast cancer. Norma’s journey ended unfortunately with Sheryl losing her battle. As Norma shared her story with Chief Miranda, both became painfully aware of the impact the disease had on their department that year. In 2012, three members of the Irwindale Police Department had recently lost their mothers to breast cancer, a startling number for an agency of 27 total sworn officers. As the two conversed about the disease, Chief Miranda decided that more could be done.
In previous years, Irwindale Police Department had adopted different programs to bring awareness to breast cancer. Officers were encouraged to wear ribbons, lapel pins and pink bands to bring awareness to the disease. In 2013, Chief Miranda recalled seeing a pink patch that the Seal Beach Police Department was wearing on their uniforms during the month of October. He decided that Irwindale would embark on a journey of their own: create and wear a patch bearing the city’s emblem and likeness, yet all stitching would be in bright pink, a sharp contrast to the dark navy blue uniform.
In 2013, when Chief Miranda and Norma Ortiz were in the early phases of creating the pink patch, they were unsure of the response they would receive from the officers. Chief Miranda had been the chief at Irwindale PD for less than a year. He was adamant that Irwindale PD could do more to raise awareness of breast cancer, but he wasn’t sure others would share his passion. Chief Miranda had an idea. In 2012, Seal Beach Police Department raised $3,000 with their pink patch. Chief Miranda decided to challenge the officers at Irwindale PD. His challenge: triple the amount of money Seal Beach PD raised in their pink patch campaign.
Chief Miranda presented his idea to the Irwindale Police Officer’s Association. He informed the Irwindale Police Officers Association that officer participation was not mandatory but solely voluntary. Chief Miranda asked his officers if they would be up to the challenge of tripling Seal Beach PD’s fundraiser. To his surprise, October 1, 2015, marked the day that every officer in the Irwindale Police Department overwhelmingly supported the project and adorned the pink patches proudly on their uniforms. Chief Miranda and Norma decided to take their pink patches and t-shirts they created bearing the pink patch to community events like Coffee with a Cop, National Night Out and the Irwindale Speedway. The response they received from the community was overwhelmingly supportive. The demand for pink patches and t-shirts was so high that they had to order considerably more than they anticipated. The Irwindale Police Department exceeded Chief Miranda’s challenge and raised over $20,000 for the City of Hope that year.
As the news of Irwindale Police Department’s pink patch spread, corporate sponsors contacted the police department to find out how they could support the project. Local news media outlets also jumped on board to cover the story. The momentum was building, and the word was out: the Irwindale PD Pink Patch Project was raising money for the City of Hope and bringing attention to a disease that affected so many.
For Sergeant Rudy Gatto, the support was a welcome surprise. In 2007, Sergeant Gatto’s mother in law, Dorothy Tarozzi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As Sergeant Gatto and his family supported Dorothy through her battle, he experienced the emotional and physical impact the disease has on family members. For Sergeant Gatto, breast cancer’s devastating impact hit home. While Chief Miranda and Norma were in the process of creating the patch for Irwindale PD, Sergeant Gatto tapped into the resource of social media and #pinkpatchproject was born.
Norma Ortiz explained that the Pink Patch Project is an incredible tribute to her mother, Sheryl. When Sheryl was initially diagnosed with the disease, she was told by doctors that she had approximately 18 months before the disease would take her life. Thanks to the City of Hope, Sheryl was able to participate in experimental treatments that prolonged her life another year and a half, a gift that Norma is incredibly grateful to have received.
This year, Chief Miranda spoke to the Los Angeles County Chiefs Association regarding the Pink Patch Project, and the association voted unanimously to support the project. According to Chief Miranda, the Pink Patch Project’s main goal is to bring awareness to the disease. Raising funds is a bonus and specific to participating agencies. Every agency that chooses to participate in the project creates their patch and donates the funds raised from the project to a charity in their community. The spirit behind the Pink Patch Project is to support those affected by the disease in their community. Whether an agency chooses to support a family affected by the disease, hospice or treatment facility, or donate to the City of Hope, the goals are being obtained and the battle is being aggressively fought.
Chief Miranda’s future plans for the Pink Patch project are to invite police chiefs from more Southern California agencies and eventually reach out to police chiefs statewide. Currently, half of the law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County are participating in the Pink Patch Project but, according to Chief Miranda, there is still work to be done. If you are a chief of police, an officer, or a community member that would like to bring the Pink Patch Project to your area, you may contact the Irwindale Police Department for more information. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, in 2016, an estimated 246,660 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The efforts made today to bring awareness, raise funds for treatment and research, and support those impacted by the disease are essential steps toward the goal of one day finding a cure.