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IN THE RACE FOR SHERIFF: Fowler would put his military, police experience to use as sheriff

Al Fowler had his first career serving in the U.S. Marines, then as a law enforcement officer in Becker County, Detroit Lakes, New York Mills and White Earth. (Paula Quam / Tribune)

After handling large-scale logistics for the Marine Corps and making his living in law enforcement, Al Fowler wants to put his administrative and police skills to work as Becker County sheriff.

He will face incumbent Todd Glander on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Fowler, 46, grew up the son of a boat mechanic in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and helped out at the resort where his father worked.

He graduated from high school in 1990 at Westwood High School in Ishpeming, Mich., a city about the same size as Detroit Lakes, located near Marquette.

He joined the National Guard while still in high school, and in 1991, a few years after graduation, he moved to the Detroit Lakes area, where he had friends. His wife, Laura, is from Detroit Lakes and they have four children, the youngest is 18. The Fowlers live in the Pickerel Lake area.

In 1992 he joined the Marine Corps. Fowler spent 24 years in the military, mostly in the Marine Corps — 17 years on active duty, four years in the Marine Corps Reserve and three years in the National Guard.

He served as manpower and operations chief for the Second Marine Division in Afghanistan in 2011-2012. With eight or 10 people under his command, he was responsible for keeping track of 8,000 Marines as they moved to various places.

"I had to create a unit, put it together, watch as it deployed to another unit, then track them through their deployment," he said.

In 2008, stationed in North Carolina, he worked with the Classified File Unit, which tracked every piece of classified information in the Second Marine Division, and made sure computer hard drives and records were properly accounted for. The system his unit pioneered is now used throughout the Marine Corps, he said.

He worked for five generals in three years. "I ran a multimillion dollar budget," he said. He also helped track flights and handled security for incoming flights in Afghanistan, including high-profile military officers and members of Congress.

From 2004-2008 he ran the Marine Corps recruiting office in Detroit Lakes, and served as a recruiter in Fargo and Bismarck.

He worked as the Sentencing to Service crew leader at the Becker County Jail from 1998 to 2004 and from 2000 to 2008 worked as an auxiliary deputy for the Becker County Sheriff's Office.

At various times he worked as a police officer in New Prague, Minn., as a part-time officer in New York Mills, and with a military police unit in the Marines.

He retired and moved back to Detroit Lakes in 2015. He worked full-time as a White Earth tribal police officer for seven months, worked as a Detroit Lakes police officer for several months, found he missed patrolling the wide-open spaces, and went back to work as a White Earth police officer until a few weeks ago, when he said he resigned to focus on his campaign.

If elected, he says he will focus on fiscal responsibility, training and education, crime response and intelligence-led policing.

Fowler would like to make better use the part-time deputy force, perhaps deploying five or 10 of them to surprise and catch the drug runners that come through Becker County. "It will make those trying to run through here, or to here, guessing when extra patrols will be on," he said.

But there are a lot of aspects to intelligence-led policing. "Part of it is just making sure the public trusts you and will give you tips," he said.

Data on past crime patterns could be used to deter future incidents and catch lawbreakers, he said. To focus on off-season lake home burglaries, for example, part-timers could be deployed on ATVs or snowmobiles to patrol and deter problem areas.

"We need to look closer at the connection between drugs, theft and human trafficking in the area," he said.

Fowler would also like to work with the first responders — law enforcement, firefighters and medical squads — on collaborative training.

If agencies take turns sending a few people to learn new techniques or equipment, and they become trainers themselves, they can come back and do round-robin training locally, he said. "As I talk to our departments, that's really a big thing they'd like to see," he said.

On fiscal responsibility, Fowler said "we need to align the department's capabilities with what the public wants," whether it be different patrol routes, citizen academies or public safety response groups. "There is (grant) money out there, we just need to attack them more aggressively, so we can get them here," he said.

If elected, he said, "I don't plan to fire anyone or make personnel changes. I want to work on ways to expand our capabilities. I'd like to find a way to use our part-time department throughout the year."

Fowler says he would like to maintain ties between the sheriff's office and tribal police department. "I plan to maintain a good relationship with White Earth, I enjoyed working there," he said.