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On the Job: Meet SDPD's Own Sketch Artist

Gary Bowen's artistic talents help catch the bad guys


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Photo by Robert Benson

Gary Bowen

Age: 45
Organization: San Diego Police Department
Job: Police officer and composite sketch artist

Gary Bowen’s composite of a Chula Vista resident was all over the news after the May 2016 Balboa Park rape case in which a mother was kidnapped and assaulted multiple times. One witness and a previous victim both recognized the composite, and the suspect was turned in immediately.

Bowen has worked in law enforcement since 1998, but always had a love of drawing and cartooning. He put himself through a training and certification program and, since 2012, has been the only composite sketch artist on the force. “I do the job for the victims and the public. I feel I’ve been blessed with a skill that helps me catch the bad guys.”

If the witness has trouble describing the suspect’s face, Bowen turns to a book called Steinberg’s Facial Identification Catalog, which has images of thousands of different noses, eyes, and mouths. “We play a really advanced version of Mr. Potato Head.”

He says he’s amazed at what people can remember under such stressful circumstances. “I’ve had people see the picture and just completely freak out and start crying. It’s terrible. You have to have a box of tissues waiting. Others are very determined. It’s a really weird, emotional thing I witness.”

Bowen works with all the major crime units—homicide, robberies, sex crimes, home invasions, and assaults. He has also made sketches for the NYPD, Honolulu PD, NCIS, FBI, and other agencies whose witness or suspect has traveled to the area. When he’s off-duty, Bowen has a word-of-mouth side business drawing dog portraits.

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