Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that features accomplished Galt area graduates. If you are interested in being considered as part of this series or you know a GHS or LRHS graduate with notable accomplishments, career or otherwise, please email Faith Lewis at email@example.com or Bonnie Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much has changed since Mark Hatzenbuhler graduated from Galt High School in 1990 – the town has grown from little more than 9,000 residents to more than 26,000, a second high school has opened, and big-name companies have moved in. But the small-town values Hatzenbuhler was taught growing up in Galt have stuck with him throughout life and helped lead him to a successful career with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Many of those lessons were taught by his father, Erv Hatzenbuhler, the longtime and well-loved GHS football coach in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“My father has always and will always be my mentor,” Hatzenbuhler said. “He taught me right from wrong and to never give less than 100 percent on anything I do in life. He was the best man in my wedding, and he pinned the badge on my chest when I was hired as a deputy with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department.”
Hatzenbuhler’s goal was to be his father’s best player and led to his love of sports. He played basketball his freshman year, baseball freshman to junior years, and football all four years.
“Having played sports throughout my career taught me how to be a team player. That is what turned me toward a career in law enforcement. I enjoyed the similarity between the two. Being able to count on your partners or teammates when you need help appealed to me.”
However, he didn’t see the connection right away, and when he set off for Stanford University on a scholarship, Hatzenbuhler thought he would become a doctor. He quickly realized how many years of school stood between him and that goal and decided that wasn’t the right choice for him. After graduating in 1994 with a Bachelor’s in communication, he was accepted into the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Training Academy.
Since then, his career has been a swift climb through the ranks. He worked for two years at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center before moving to patrol in South Sacramento for five years and then working as a detective in the department’s Pre-Employment Unit. In 2009, Hatzenbuhler was promoted to sergeant and returned to the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center and then the Communications Center as a supervisor. In 2013, he was selected to be a supervisor with Rancho Cordova Police Department and, in 2018, he took over the role of Administrative Sergeant/Youth Services Supervisor there.
“I supervise our Police Activities League and our three School Resource Officers. I am also in charge of our division’s training and I handle several administrative duties to assist our Division Commander and Assistant Division Commanders,” Hatzenbuhler explained of his current responsibilities.
The Rancho Cordova Police Activities League, known as PAL, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on building relationships with youth in the local community through annual events and outreach. The program, along with the School Resource Officers (SROs), allows children to interact with officers in a positive environment. PAL serves 1,500 local children each year and includes initiatives such as Holiday STAR. This program rewards approximately 70 Rancho Cordova preschool and elementary students who work hard to be high achievers in academics and behavior, despite challenging financial situations, with a special breakfast, recognition ceremony, new school supplies and clothes, and a $100 holiday shopping spree at Walmart.
“Although there are several instances where I have helped kids or victims in need, I would have to say my biggest accomplishment has been creating the Holiday STAR Program. It has been an incredible experience. Seeing the joy on the faces of the kids who get to participate is truly humbling,” Hatzenbuhler said.
Of course, Galt’s growth is not the only thing that has changed since Hatzenbuhler’s high school graduation. Being in law enforcement is more challenging than ever as public opinions have become more hostile and the work officers do has become more and more thankless.
“This job has changed so much over the last 15 years,” Hatzenbuhler said. “Nearly all of our actions get questioned, and the media plays into that. It is rare when they tell the full story behind what actually happened. It is unfortunate because it is making our job hard to do, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find good candidates to work in this field.”
Still, Hatzenbuhler believes the current leadership at the Rancho Cordova Police Department has been successful in creating a positive workplace for officers, and the community is largely supportive of the department.
Hatzenbuhler looks forward to the future, hoping to promote to lieutenant and retire in the next seven years.
“[This career] has made me appreciate how I was raised and everything that I have,” he said. “I have learned not to take anything for granted.”