It’s early in the afternoon when the deputy steps inside a 55-foot-long tractor-trailer that’s been reinforced with ballistic steel panel walls and a granular rubber bullet trap.
With eyes and ears protected, she takes aim inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Mobile Pistol Range (MPR).
The trailer, parked behind the OCSD’s South Operations substation in Aliso Viejo, is equipped to absorb blasts from a variety of handguns and shotguns.
From the outside, the shots are merely muffled pops.
Inside, they’re painfully loud.
Deputy Inv. Maria Bowman, who handles general crimes for the City of San Clemente, spends a lot of time perfecting her shooting skills in the MPR, and it shows.
As Bowman readies to shoot at a target 28 feet away, she mentally reviews the principles known as the “Fundamentals of Marksmanship” (stance, grip, breath control, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, and follow through).
When the target rotates and she begins her draw, one can sense her extreme focus as she progresses through each phase of the basic fundamentals while keeping her weight on the balls of her feet, knees slightly bent, and her upper body a shade forward.
She begins to fire the 9mm rounds from her Glock, round after round, striking the target with extreme accuracy, faster and faster until the end when all goes quiet.
Bowman assesses the target and slowly returns her weapon to the holster.
And wouldn’t you know, the 22 holes in the paper target end up dead center.
For someone who decided to pursue a career in law enforcement after seeing a billboard about job openings when she was bored with her job in a dental office, Bowman’s career at the OCSD has been nothing short of remarkable.
Since becoming a deputy in 2006, Bowman has racked up numerous awards in marksmanship, making her one of the most skilled shooters among the OCSD’s 3,000-plus sworn personnel.
Bowman attended the FBI Firearms Instructor Course and, in January 2015, made history when she became the first deputy to be assigned as a weapons instructor and range master at the agency’s Katella Training Facility in Orange.
There, she utilized her skills and talent to help train and mentor academy recruits, department personnel, and civilians in all aspects of marksmanship and tactics. These days, she also is known at the OCSD for being a selfless mentor and a skilled investigator.
Her colleagues aren’t surprised.
Sgt. Rebecca Contreras, assigned as the supervisor of the OCSD’s women’s shooting team, says Bowman is an excellent shooter and ambassador of the sport.
“She has a calm demeanor but a fierce competitive spirit,” Contreras says. “She’s a great representative of the women’s shooting team and women overall in law enforcement.”
GREW UP IN JAPAN
After meeting Bowman, you may think she grew up fixated on guns and shooting and police work, based on her accomplishments thus far.
Not even close.
Born in Hawaii and spending most of her upbringing in Japan, mainly in the cities of Nagoya and Nagano, Bowman helped her mother, who taught English, raise her siblings.
Bowman met her sweetheart and later husband, Miguel, while still in Japan attending high school. In 2001, the two got married and later moved to the United States when her husband’s company relocated to Southern California.
With Miguel working as an art director for films and video games, Maria volunteered in her daughter’s classrooms. At the time, the girls were 5 and 3.
Bowman thought about pursuing a career in teaching, like her mother, but decided it wasn’t for her.
She was working part-time at a dental office and took several telemarking sales jobs.
“I wanted to do something with more action,” Bowman recalls, when she saw the “Join the OCSD” billboard. “I wanted a career I could be passionate about and help serve the community.”
When she saw the billboard, Bowman told her husband, “I want to do that.”
BECOMING A DEPUTY SHERIFF
In 2006, Bowman attended the Orange County Regional Sheriff’s Academy and became a deputy that same year.
She spent her first six years working in the jails, where she became skilled at “verbal judo,” or talking people out of fights, confrontations, or from harming themselves.
During that time, she learned the importance of officer safety and teamwork. Bowman also was selected to be a Jail Training Officer (JTO) and Emergency Response Team Leader (ERT).
In 2008, Bowman became an integral part of the Orange County Sheriff Department Explorer Post 449. She became an advisor for the north division in 2008.
To this day, Bowman often volunteers to assist at Explorer events and competitions. She has traveled to multiple Explorer competitions where she has won many advisor awards for Pistol Expert and physical fitness (5k run and obstacle course).
Bowman also has assisted as a tactical officer for multiple Explorer Academies and runs their social media sites. She also is the Junior Explorer’s advisor and the Search and Rescue division advisor.
For her efforts, Bowman has received several awards, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Explorer Advisor of the Year Award in 2019, and the William Spurgeon Award from the Orange County Boy Scouts of America in 2015.
“These young men and woman have been fortunate to have someone like Maria in their lives,” said Sgt. Jason Doherty, of the OCSD Reserve Bureau.
Laguna Hills Deputy Gregg Surrell, who is the Senior Explorer Advisor for POST 449, said: “Without people like Maria, our explorer program would not be what it is today.”
Bowman says she doesn’t ask anything of her explorers that she cannot do herself.
“Leading by example is important to me,” Bowman says. “If I ask them to run 3 miles, I better be willing to run right there next to them. If they need to run through an obstacle course in the heat, I need to show them I will do it also.
“I see the pride in their faces when they see their advisor compete along with them and it motivates them to try their very best. I could not be more proud of these teens and young adults.”
In 2012, Bowman was promoted and transferred to the city of Rancho Santa Margarita. Shortly after she passed her patrol training, her supervisors recognized the knowledge and experience she gained, and she was selected to be an FTO (Field Training Officer) and a member of CIRT (Critical Incident Response Team).
After that assignment, Bowman transferred to North Operations, to the Security Bureau.
Through it all, she continued to work hard on her shooting skills. This was evident when she was named co-captain of the OCSD Ladies Trigger Team before landing her history-making job as Range Master in 2015.
“When the Sheriff’s Department made the decision to transition to utilizing sworn personnel as range staff, Maria was an obvious choice to fill that position,” Lt. Carl Bulanek said. “Not only is she an incredible marksman, but her ability to teach and help others sets her apart. Her calm, humble demeanor makes shooters feel at ease and allows them to improve their skills in a learning-conducive environment.”
Bulanek was the range sergeant at the time. He now is the lieutenant for San Juan Capistrano Police Services.
Jerry Lee, who is a retired Marine sergeant major and current Range Master at the sheriff’s Tactical Range, said of Bowman: “She’s a consummate professional. She leads with a technical expertise that is unmatched by few yet admired by many. Her unwavering loyalty, professionalism, and invigorating demeanor is most evident when given the opportunity to assist others, particularly when training new recruits.
“When training recruits is where we see Maria at her best. Her keen ability to motivate, guide, and mentor shows her personal commitment to excellence, which has been the cornerstone for her continued success.”
Bowman wasn’t done there.
While working at the range, she got involved with the agency’s Peer Support team. While working investigations, she joined the Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT) and became a member of the department’s Museum Committee.
“It’s important to me to preserve the past so the future deputies will be able to look back to see how things were before,” Bowman says.
Her hard work and dedication paid off, with Bowman being promoted to investigator in 2016.
In that capacity, she has worked as a background investigator for the Professional Standards Division, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and San Juan Capistrano.
Bowman currently is assigned to San Clemente and assists her fellow investigators assigned to the contract cities of San Juan Capistrano, Dana Pont, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Laguna Niguel, and Aliso Viejo.
“During my time as Maria’s supervisor,” Sgt. Scott Merrill said, “I learned quickly she was one of the hardest-working individuals I had ever met. Regardless of the case, Maria always answered the call and was never afraid to handle some of the most complex investigations that arose.”
Says Bowman: “Working investigations is my dream job. We have a great team in Southwest. Together we work hard to get cases solved.”
LOTS OF AWARDS
Bowman has racked up numerous marksmanship achievements awards. Starting with her own department, she was the recipient of the OCSD Marksmanship Award six years in a row, from 2012-2017.
With the OCSD Ladies Trigger Team, she won multiple gold and silver medals in Action Pistol and Biathlon in both individual and team categories in the 2015 to 2017 U.S. Police and Fire Championships. The Trigger Team has won first place in the female category and second place overall at the annual LEAAP Shooting Competitions since 2014 to the present.
In 2018, Bowman won first place Overall (Male and Female) in the Production Division, first place Female Law Enforcement, and second place Female at the Orange County FALEO shooting competition.
In both 2017 and 2018, Bowman placed first in individual and team winner at the National ICE-HIS Women’s Pistol Invitational, held at the San Diego Regional Firearms Training Center.
OCSD Range Master Dewayne Fowlkes, who spent 14 years in the Marines, supervises qualifications at the MPR. He says Bowman is more skilled at shooting than many other deputies on the department because she is constantly practicing her marksmanship skills.
“You have to have a desire (to get better),” Fowlkes says. “It’s just like anything else. You have to practice, practice, practice.”
Adds Fowlkes: “In this day and age in law enforcement, you’ve got to step up your game. The ‘bad guys’ have little respect for authority and they’ll shoot you at will. You’ve got to work hard on your shooting skills.
“If you’re a good shooter in a non-stressful environment, that’s great. But add stress and those skills start to diminish.”
Bowman says she simply works hard at being the best shooter possible.
“I practice and dry fire when I can’t make it to the range,” she says. “Shooting is a perishable skill. Under pressure, if you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.
“I want to be prepared for anything, and the only way to be prepared is to practice and train.”
Bowman’s daughters now are in their early 20s. Like most close families, the Bowmans love to travel together. This past summer, they returned to Japan to attend a family reunion where Miguel’s parents still live. He is the oldest of 11 children, and some 35 relatives attended the family get-together.
Up next: a trip to London, where Miguel, an avid runner, plans to run another marathon.
“Family will always be a priority,” Bowman added, and that includes her family of deputies at the OCSD.
She laughingly recalls how when she was in the academy, tactical officers would tell her to stop being the “mother hen.”
“They told me my test scores would be higher if I didn’t focus so much on helping others,” Bowman says.
But it’s precisely Bowman’s selfless ways that have made her such an admired member of the OCSD.
Bowman has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and is working on a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
“I think the public expects (law enforcement) to be educated, and I think that’s what we owe them,” Bowman says. “We owe them the highest level of service, in all aspects, we can possibly deliver.”
Bowman especially is supportive of other deputies.
When speaking to women about becoming a deputy sheriff, Bowman reflects back through the years of the sacrifices and triumphs she’s made.
“Was it all worth it?” she asks. “Yes, it was.”
Adds Bowman: “A lot of people are afraid of failure, yet they fail to understand that failures lead to success when you don’t give up. If it wasn’t hard, then everyone could do it.”
A motto Bowman has lived by her entire life is, “If it challenges me a little or takes me out of my comfort zone, then it’s the right move.”
She adds: ‘If it doesn’t make you feel a little uncomfortable, then you’re probably not improving yourself.
“I try to challenge myself each year. I know I might fail and make mistakes, but I learn more from my mistakes than my success. I am so honored and grateful to be working for the best department in the world with some of the best co-workers and teammates.”