Central Coast, SoCal Agencies Roll Out to Support Local Hospitals
On December 18 and 19, parades of patrol vehicles from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the Central Coast and Southern California participated in Operation Holiday Cheer, driving by local hospitals with lights and sirens activated to show appreciation to doctors, nurses and hospital staff working around the clock and spread joy to patients during the holiday season.
This event, which was established in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in 2021, brought San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties into the fold in 2023, making it one of the largest coordinated events of its kind, stretching across 400 miles and involving more than 30 agencies and 40 medical centers.
Cuesta College Police Chief Rich Randolph, who helped spearhead the creation of Operation Holiday Cheer while he was with the Colton Police Department, was responsible for expanding the program to the Central Coast. He first conceived the idea for the event in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against police brutality. At that time, Randolph, under PORAC’s Committee on Peace Officer Relations (COPOR), co-created United for Positive Reform (UPR) — a diverse coalition of public safety stakeholders dedicated to taking a collaborative approach to the issue of police reform — as a way to seize the moment and find ways to create a better way forward for law enforcement and the community.
“Several groups and different entities were unhappy with law enforcement, including medical and nursing associations,” he says, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated tensions with the medical community. Since Colton P.D. had a strong relationship with its county hospital, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Randolph devised Operation Holiday Cheer as way for PORAC, UPR and law enforcement associations to strengthen the bond with and show gratitude to medical professionals, fellow frontline workers who share law enforcement’s mission of protecting and serving the community.
“We decided to institute a small parade of police cars to support medical professionals, and since the Inland Chapter was so intertwined and the communications we had were so strong, we decided to expand it to other agencies through association contacts in PORAC, which is what you see today,” Randolph shares.
When Randolph relocated to San Luis Obispo to become Cuesta College Police chief in January 2023, one of his goals was to bring Operation Holiday Cheer to his new community. However, he “needed to work first on being a leader, learning what campus policing in college was like, learning how to be humble and being accepted by my neighboring agencies and my other chief partners, and I also wanted to see the support level of community policing in this county,” he says.
Since then, Randolph learned that support for law enforcement was incredible in PORAC’s Tri-Counties Chapter, which includes San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “With a little bit of peer pressure from my law enforcement family in the Inland Empire, I presented the idea of Operation Holiday Cheer to the Criminal Justice Administrators Association of San Luis Obispo County (CJAA), the chief and sheriff group of our county, and they welcomed it with open arms,” he says.
The two-day event entailed law enforcement simultaneously parading at hospitals in their jurisdictions, some with Santa and other festive figures in tow. Patients were encouraged to look out their windows, and hospital workers were asked to stand outside their buildings to wave at the long line of vehicles slowly driving by to show their support. The agencies that led this year’s effort and made it all possible were the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol in all four counties (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Bernadino and Riverside).
Randolph says the event is about not only spreading cheer, but also building and fortifying relationships in the community.
“It’s important because law enforcement needs to continue to strive for that positive image, because we are constantly tainted and portrayed in the media and in government by politicians who say that we are not supporters of community projects, and that is absolutely not true,” he explains. “We are now in an era where community policing is so critical, no matter where you’re at. Medical staff are happy seeing the level of support that we’re giving them — and we do this all the time, not just during Christmas.”
Additionally, Randolph notes that law enforcement agencies and hospitals need to have strong working relationships because they rely on each other when it comes to calls for service in medical facilities, transporting critically injured officers and victims, and more.
Randolph hopes Operation Holiday Cheer takes hold in other parts of the state and nationwide, and encourages other agencies and PORAC chapters to establish their own programs. All it takes is to get in touch with an agency’s public affairs department or present the idea to a local association to get the conversation started and build support. “Everything has to do with the partnership and collaboration you have with a good law enforcement family,” he says, adding that members can reach out to him any time for guidance.
“The holidays are a difficult time for law enforcement and first responders, and we understand that it’s definitely a difficult time for any family member whose loved one or child is sitting in a hospital and not able to be home with family opening presents,” Randolph says. “Our event is designed to show support to all levels at the hospital and pass on some goodness, and that’s what we have accomplished.”