For the first time in recent memory, the Santa Monica Police Department is releasing their patch to the public. While other police departments regularly participate in patch swaps or allow civilians to buy them, SMDP has always kept their signature mermaid by the sea for officers only – until now.

There is a catch: the patches are pink.

Jail administrator Jennifer Estrada was the first to purchase a pink patch and place it in her office window. From that moment they’ve been flying off her desk.

“When the guys come by and see it’s pink it really garners a lot of attention,” Estrada said in an interview from her office in the jail. “It sold like crazy.”

The pink patches cost ten dollars each and are raising money for the Breast Cancer Society. SMDP is the 91st agency to join the Pink Patch Project, which originated with the Irwindale Police Department. Santa Monica College’s Police Department is also selling pink versions of their patch.

Without any announcement or press release, Estrada sold more than 150 patches to officers and staff at the Public Safety Facility. She’s been impressed by how quickly it has taken off with her mostly male colleagues.

“All of the guys are like ‘that’s so cool’ and all of them have their own personal story of how they’ve been touched by cancer: like their mom or their grandmother or their brother,” Estrada said.

It’s not hard to find a connection to start up a conversation surrounding the important topic of early detection or intervention. The National Cancer Institute estimates one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives.

In fact, the entire nationwide effort started a few years ago with one conversation at the Irwindale Police Department. Chief Anthony Miranda had a heartfelt talk with his records clerk, Norma Ortiz, who had just lost her mom to breast cancer. Both of them realized their small police department had been deeply touched by cancer. Miranda decided to go beyond the traditional pink pins and bracelets to make a big difference. They borrowed the idea of pink patches from the Seal Beach Police Department, and started selling their own to raise money for City of Hope.

Every October, every officer now wears a pink patch to raise awareness.

“We deal with people in the best of times and the worst of times,” Sgt. Rudy Gatto said over the phone from Irwindale. “Every contact is a chance for us to spread the word. We’re human beings too. My family has been personally touched by cancer and breast cancer.”

Gatto says raising awareness is important, because early detection is so vital to fighting breast cancer. The first year, the department doubled their initial fundraising goal and raised $20,000. They decided to take the idea nationwide.

The pink patches spread from agency to agency and last October the entire effort raised $320,000 for breast cancer research and charities. Gatto hopes to raise half a million dollars by October this year.

Word of the collectible patches spreads fast. Recently, a man in San Francisco reached out to Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks in Santa Monica with a personal letter asking to buy a patch to add to a memorial quilt he is making for his mother who died of breast cancer. The City hadn’t even announced plans to sell the patches yet.

For Estrada, it’s another way for officers to connect with the many issues facing the people they serve.

“We’re not just out there playing cops and robbers. We actually care about the people who live here,” Estrada said.

SMDP will sell the patches year round. To get one, send a check and a self addressed envelope to Jennifer Estrada at 333 Olympic Drive, Santa Monica, CA 90401. The check should be made out to the City of Santa Monica with “Pink Patch” in the memo line.