The Santa Monica Police Department is participating in the Pink Patch Project this month. Courtesy photo.

In an effort to raise awareness and funds for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Santa Monica Police Department is participating in The Pink Patch Project, a public awareness campaign that seeks to bring attention to and support breast cancer research organizations who combat the devastating disease.

Every year, more than 275,000 Americans are diagnosed with Breast Cancer and the disease is the second leading killer among women in the country, according to a news release from the department. But the Santa Monica Police Department’s initiative, which is led by Jail Administrator Jennifer Estrada, intends to get officers from across the department involved in the fight with Pink SMPD patches and rank insignias.

The nationwide patch effort started a few years ago with one conversation at the Irwindale Police Department when 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 so Miranda decided to go beyond the traditional pink pins and bracelets to make a big difference.

The Santa Monica Police Department began releasing its patch to the public a short while after and now the department is a regular participant in the fundraising efforts, according to Estrada.

“I wear pink for my mom,” Detective Marisela Perez said. “In 2014, my world was rocked when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom has always been my hero and she fought it like a champ. She is the strongest woman I know… today, 6 years later, I can say with a huge grateful smile, she is cancer-free!”

Perez is far from the only one in the department with a personal stake in the fight.

Lieutenant Robert Villegas remembers while growing up, playing sports, “or doing regular boy stuff, you would commonly hear the other boys say things like, ‘You fight like a girl!’”

Villegas added, “You grow up believing that ‘fighting like a girl” or “playing ball like a girl” is something weak or soft or to be ashamed of. (But) when my mother was diagnosed and had to suffer through chemo and radiation treatment, I saw a brave woman fight cancer courageously and she never backed down… So when people ask me how cancer has impacted me, I say that I wish I could fight like a girl.”

As she rattled off the requests for SMPD patches that have originated from avid collectors in countries all across the world, Estrada invited local residents to join the department in the fight against cancer. Some people make blankets and others just like the opportunity to donate to a good cause, she said, mentioning the SMPD patches can be purchased for $10.

“We’re very fortunate to have two hospitals in our city so all of the money raised goes right back into the community since it’s donated evenly to St. Johns Hospital and the UCLA Santa Monica Breast Center,” Estrada said.

Interested parties who wish to purchase a patch can do so by sending a self-addressed envelope and a check or money order payable to “City of Santa Monica.” In the memo line indicate “Pink Patch,” and mail payment to J. Estrada at 333 Olympic Drive, Santa Monica, CA 90401.