HANFORD — Lt. George Hernandez of the Hanford Police Department had a goal of reaching 30 years with the department before retiring; he’s announced his retirement one year shy of that goal, but has no regrets about his long career in Hanford.

“Law enforcement has been a part of my identity for the last 29 years,” Hernandez said. “I truly will miss this job. I will miss, especially, the people.”

Hernandez, 54, has been a lieutenant with the department for over eight years and has worked as the department’s public information officer for about 15 years. His last day as a Hanford officer is Aug. 31.

Hanford Police Capt. Karl Anderson said Hernandez has been a great representative of the department and exemplifies what an officer should be.

Anderson said Hernandez was well-liked by his peers, took care of what needed to be taken care of and was always supportive. More so, he said Hernandez was civic- and community-minded, and went "above-and-beyond to connect with the community."

Hernandez, the son of farm laborers, was born and raised in Ventura. After high school, he attended Ventura College as a petroleum technology major.

Hernandez said he wanted to work on an oil rig out in the ocean after graduating, but because there was not much oil rig work at the time, he took an administration of justice course just to try it out.

That class changed the course of Hernandez’s life. He said he fell in love with administration of justice and changed studies, just one class shy of finishing his intended major.

Hernandez said he began working for the Ventura Police Department in a civilian position and gained a lot of experience working there while finishing his administration of justice degree.

From there, Hernandez transferred to California State University, Fresno, where he received his bachelor’s degree in criminology/law enforcement in 1987. While there, he worked as a reserve for the Fresno Sheriff’s Office and got the opportunity to work in the jails, on patrol, in the boating unit and even in the vice unit.

After college, Hernandez said he paid his own way through the police academy by working 16-hour days on the weekend while attending the academy full-time during the weekdays. After doing this for four months, he graduated from the academy as a top academic cadet.

The Hanford Police Department was recruiting officers at the time, so Hernandez said he put in an application and received a call about a month later offering him a position.

Hernandez started working patrol in Hanford, which he said he loved because it was always busy and he had a lot of fun. After four years, he was promoted to a senior officer, a quasi-supervisory position.

After only a year as a senior officer, he tested for and was accepted as a sergeant. He spent the next 15 years as a field supervisor, working patrol.

Hernandez calls his time as a field supervisor “the best time of my life.” He said he liked the fact that he got the “best of both worlds”: part-time in the office taking care of business and part-time patrolling with his fellow officers.

As a lieutenant, he has been the manager of operations over the patrol division and, most recently, a manager over the detective division.

When an opportunity arose seven years ago to become an instructor for the San Joaquin Valley College criminal justice program in Hanford, Hernandez decided to try his hand at teaching.

“Kind of like law enforcement when I fell in love with the job, I started teaching and fell in love with teaching,” Hernandez said.

He taught at SJVC in Hanford for six years before the criminal justice program was closed due to lack of students. Determined to still teach, Hernandez transferred to the SJVC Visalia campus last year to resume as an instructor for its criminal justice program.

In April, Hernandez got the opportunity to interview for the criminal justice program director position at SJVC when the previous director retired. He said he was hired on the spot, and has been working both his police and teaching jobs since May.

He said both jobs have been flexible with his time, and he is appreciative of Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever for being supportive of his teaching career. With the support of his wife and family, he finally made the difficult decision to retire as an officer.

“Even though I won’t be a police officer anymore, I’ll still be serving law enforcement in some capacity,” Hernandez said, adding his teaching career has been just as rewarding to him as his police career.

Anderson said that though Hernandez's experience will be missed, in a way, he's helping promote Hanford with his knowledge and showing the future of law enforcement what Hanford is really about.

Looking back on his career with Hanford PD, Hernandez remains humble. The legacy he wants to leave, he said, is not the programs he created or the projects he started; it’s the thought that he treated everyone with respect.

Hernandez has countless stories of people he came into contact with, sometimes even people he arrested, that have come to him years later and thanked him or apologized for their actions.

“If you make a difference in someone’s life — whether the contact be positive or negative — even if it’s only one person in your whole career, then it was worth it,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he will miss the Hanford PD team, calling them “family.” He balanced the fine line of professionalism and friendliness with ease, and said he hopes coworkers and students know they can always come to him and that he will always have their backs.

Hernandez has four children: Jennifer, 27, Jonathan, 24, Justin, 18, and Jacob, 12. He and his wife, Tracey, have been married for 11 years.

With his newfound time, Hernandez said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family and getting back to doing some of his hobbies, including woodworking and landscaping.

"He will be missed," Anderson said. "But I'm excited for him to be able to spend a little more time with his family and do the things he's been wanting to do."

“I’ve enjoyed my career here, I’ve enjoyed the people of Hanford, and I will always be a supporter of Hanford PD and the men and women who work here,” Hernandez said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com