MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It might be the season of giving, but it’s also the season of collecting for a Twin Cities boy. In fact, collecting police patches has become a year-round endeavor for 9-year-old Robert Romero Martinez.

Apple Valley police officers have helped Martinez grow his collection, which has filled an 18-gallon tub and then some.

His mother, Trista Martinez Romero, said it all began around the time he was turning 9. Martinez decided he wanted to be a police officer. That meant sending out a few more invitations for his party.

“A lot of officers showed up and helped him celebrate his birthday. Which was pretty awesome,” Romero said.

Apple Valley police even helped him deck out his Little Tyke’s car.

“He was very happy. He sat right down in it and was ready to go,” Romero said.

“He’s just a happy kid. He’s always smiling. He always wants to come up and talk to you,” Capt. Nick Francis said.

The car was cool, but it was the police patches that really got Martinez’s attention. His mom helped him set up a Facebook page so he could collect them from departments across the country. The page also talks about 22Q, a disorder that affects Martinez’s speech and immune system, making it hard to leave home during a pandemic.

“We found out when he was 2-weeks-old due to seizures,” Romero said.

But 22Q doesn’t stop Martinez from collecting. The patches have taken over his room.

“Well over a thousand. I’ve lost count. It fills an 18-gallon bin,” Romero said.

They’ve come from all over the world, sometimes with coins, letters and videos.

Still, Martinez’s loyalty is to Apple Valley police. He goes to their community events and Francis has lunch with him at his school. The young boy shows up for them, so this holiday season, they’re showing up for him.

During a tough year, officers decided to play Santa Claus for Martinez and his family. They dropped off gifts at the family’s home, who had no idea they were coming.

“I don’t even know how to explain it because it’s nice to see him happy. It’s nice to see his brother happy,” Romero said. “They have a lot of people that care about them.”

“They see that we are approachable and we are people and we want the public to come up and kind of learn about us and we want to learn about them too,” Francis said. “Even though you couldn’t see their big smiles underneath (their masks), you could see their eyes light up when we brought them their gifts.”

Francis said that when Martinez grows up he will definitely have some kind of position waiting for him at the Apple Valley Police Department.

John Lauritsen