Irwindale Police Sgt. Rudy Gatto was at the Starbucks drive-through when the young woman at the window noticed the pink patch on his uniform. She asked about it and then called her co-workers to the window as well.
“Just the stimulating conversation with the community is incredible,” says Gatto, who added that this particular conversation occurred within the first hour of Irwindale Police officers starting to wear their pink patches in the community in 2015. “It’s really staggering to think the kind of impact it’s having on the community.”
In addition to raising funds for breast cancer research, this kind of dialogue is one of the Pink Patch Project’s key goals. According to the Pink Patch Project, about one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, and breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
“We want to find a cure, we want to fight cancer and raise awareness,” says Irwindale Police Chief Anthony Miranda, who got the basic idea of wearing pink patches as a way to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month from the Seal Beach Police Department, which did so in 2013.
In 2015, the Irwindale PD developed a more expanded version of the idea and had a goal of raising $10,000 by selling the patches in the community. The agency doubled its target goal by raising $20,000.
“It’s very, very personal and the energy is incredible that [participating agencies]bring to the project,” says Miranda.
With such great success, Miranda decided to go even bigger this year, inviting the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association to participate. The participants’ list has grown consistently (at 71 agencies as of Oct. 14), including departments from all over California, and even several out-of-state agencies.
“It’s really kind of a collaborative effort between all these agencies,” says Gatto.
Many agencies have really taken the idea and run with it, according to Gatto. Some stick to the pink patches, while others sell T-shirts, plush animals, license plate frames, challenge coins, etc.
One agency even received a donated women’s diamond ring to sell raffle tickets for and give proceeds to the Pink Patch Project Fund for Cancer. Each agency selects a local breast cancer group to support and runs its fundraising efforts independently – determining marketing, promotions and sales on a local level. Each agency also handles its own record keeping and works directly with the local organization receiving the donations.
Though there has been collaboration among agencies, including a Pink Patch Project booth at the recent Los Angeles County Fair, which sold patches and T-shirts from several different agencies and collectively raised $30,000 in just four weeks.
“The agencies are getting really creative on how they’re doing it,” says Gatto. “They have a commitment at the agency level and helping at a larger scale.”
For example, the Fullerton Police Department is selling its pink patches the traditional way (the agency’s patch redesigned using vibrant pink) and also in a framed version (click here to read story). For those who wanted something a little different, Fullerton Police Community Service Officer Kristy Wells put together 4-by-6 framed patches on black matte, which sold for $20, with the loose patches selling for $10. After selling all 150 frames, she had requests for more – which she’s supplying. The campaign will run through the end of October.
“I had a lady last week saying she’s actually collecting the pink patches and will be making a quilt,” says Wells.
Wells says many people in law enforcement and the general community have been impacted by the disease.
“I think a lot of people have been affected in some way, whether they know a family member or friend,” she says. “I think everyone has a story.”
Breast cancer awareness efforts at the Fullerton PD began a few years ago with proceeds from T-shirts sold within the agency donated to St. Jude Cancer Research. This year, the FPD’s campaign expanded to the community at large with the pink patches. In one month, the agency sold 220 patches, according to Wells, and that was even before the month of October.
“It got a lot bigger than I thought it would and very quickly … which I’m very happy about,” says Wells.
The Fullerton Police is selling patches far beyond its city borders, including a mother from West Virginia who wanted one of the pink patches sent to her daughter, a breast cancer survivor. Another buyer is a retired police officer in Scotland.
“Everyone in the community has been affected in some way by cancer. I continue to be amazed by the efforts of the men and women of the Fullerton Police Department and their desire to help others in need. CSO Wells did a great job organizing and promoting our involvement. We are proud to be a part of the Pink Patch Project, a project that will help us donate funds directly back into the community to fight cancer,” says FPD Chief Dan Hughes.
The larger initiative as a whole has really taken off, says Gatto. His mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor who had early detection, treatment and 100-percent recovery – so he understands the importance of awareness.
“It’s really exploded,” he says. “It’s a feel-good program that a lot of people have a connection to.”
With half of L.A. County’s law enforcement community committed to the campaign and more than 65 agencies involved, Miranda hopes the effort can go national.
“Ideally I’d love to see this go out like a National Night Out,” he says. “I think for me personally at the end of the rainbow that would be awesome to see that as a nationwide effort.”
Miranda points to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as an example where a widespread marketing campaign raised a lot of money that made an impact for a great cause. He hopes the law enforcement community can do the same for breast cancer.
“Maybe we can have some kind of breakthrough with this initiative as well,” Miranda says. “Do our part.”
To purchase the patches from other agencies, visit pinkpatchproject.com. Any public safety agency wishing to start a Pink Patch Project locally or wanting to partner an existing program with the Pink Patch Project can email email@example.com