Operation Baja (OB) is a multi-faceted, multi-cultural non-profit organization, created by Commander John Bretza in 1995 after he witnessed a young girl abandon her child on the roadside in Mexico. Her actions were motivated by her hope that an orphanage would provide a better life for her child, but this image left an indelible impression. The idea of Community Policing International Style was commenced when Bretza, a Commander with the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), developed OB to promote unity, cooperation and caring between police departments in Mexico in the United States as they worked together motivating community groups and individual volunteers to collect food, clothing and necessaries of life for the poverty-stricken children of Baja.
Operation Baja has broken through many cultural, generational, and gender barriers by enabling all people to participate and learn to trust and respect others. Spearheaded by Bretza, OB and the LBPD are able to reach out across international borders to police departments in Mexico. OB is a unique opportunity to unite community groups, schools, churches, citizens and police officers and engage them in working side by side to minimize the social problems of the less fortunate.
The operation is comprised of volunteers, no paid or salaried persons are involved. Volunteers contact donors, pick up donations, and organize those donations to ensure they are ready for distribution to Mexico. Then, just before Christmas, a Caravan of trucks, vans and cars are loaded full of donated goods, and LBPD officers and civilian volunteers depart from Long Beach en route to meet their Mexican counterparts at the border where, after customs approval, they drive directly to the impoverished villages.
OB has aided the impoverished in Ukraine, Cambodia, South Africa and the United States. Through community policing, the project has touched the lives of more than 20,000 individuals and helped minimize social problems that arise from ignorance, prejudice, economic poverty and a lack of genuine love and caring.
Five long years of hard work and unbearable stress may have made most people give up, but not Commander Bretza. Tears glistened in his eyes as a three year old Mexican girl planted a “thank you” kiss on his wind blown face, an expression of gratitude for a pair of warm socks and new shoes given as a result of efforts by volunteers of Operation Baja. Overwhelmed by her reaction, he realized that this is what makes the effort worthwhile.