Progress 2011: Detective Dynamo

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In a department full of men, Albert Lea Police Department detective Deb Flatness has sure earned her keep.

The only licensed woman officer in the Albert Lea Police Department, Flatness has investigated everything from business fraud to sexual assaults to robberies.

Albert Lea Police Department detective Deb Flatness was involved in many high-profile cases in the past year. -- Photo by Sarah Stultz/Artwork by Stacey Bahr

It’s a job she said she takes seriously.

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“It’s an opportunity to learn every day,” Flatness said. “It’s an opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives.”

During the last couple years, she has handled several high-profile cases, including the elder abuse case at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea and the case involving former Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle.

The elder abuse case first came to light in 2008, when accusations of sexual, physical and verbal abuse by teenage nursing assistants were reported to authorities.

Since then, four of the teenagers involved were charged as juveniles with not reporting the abuse and two of the teenagers were charged as adults because they were older than 18 at the time of the crimes. Those two teenagers, Brianna Broitzman and Ashton Larson, struck plea deals in 2010 and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct involving a combined total of about a half dozen residents.

The allegations against Tuttle became public in June of 2010, after state and local police executed a search warrant at Tuttle’s business, Albert Lea Abstract. Tuttle was in the middle of her first term as 5th District Freeborn County commissioner. She has been accused of diverting almost $1 million from her company to pursue a gambling addiction and faces state and federal charges on the matter.

Flatness also took part in the investigation of insurance agent Reid Nelson, who faces a series of charges, including insurance fraud, aggravated forgery and theft in two separate cases.

The Nelson and Tuttle cases involved working with the the Division of Insurance Fraud Prevention, which is part of the Minnesota Department of Commerce. She is there from the search warrant through many steps of the judicial process.

While police work has its challenges, Flatness said she loves her job.

She said she likes the diversity of the cases and dealing with people from all walks of life.

“Deb is very passionate about her job and works hard on all of the cases that she investigates,” said Albert Lea Lt. Darin Palmer.

Hired in 1997 as the department’s first female patrol officer, Flatness first worked on late-night patrol for eight years.

In 2005, she was promoted to the rank of detective, where she continues today.

“Her presence has greatly contributed to the department’s growth and diversity,” said Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels. “Her arrival ushered in some long overdue changes within the department.”

Winkels said law enforcement was a career change for Flatness.

“She brought an outside perspective of having worked for many years in another occupation, as well as adding a female perspective to law enforcement,” he said.

Albert Lea Lt. J.D. Carlson said the high-profile cases Flatness has investigated in recent years have expanded her use of available resources.

“Deb is an important contributor to the success of the department,” Carlson said. “It’s a pleasure to have her as part of our investigative team.”

Hero: Deb Flatness
Secret identity: detective
Base of operations: Albert Lea Police Department, city of Albert Lea
Superpowers: relating to people, having an insight into how people think
Kryptonite: doesn’t know much about cars
Affiliations: married, has a family
Origin: Flatness started with the Albert Lea Police Department 13 years ago.
She worked on late-night patrol for the first eight years, and then became a detective five years ago.