Desta Lutzwick, Otter Tail County’s director of probation will retire at the end of May. Lutzwick, a graduate of St. Cloud State University, began her career in Anoka County as a probation officer in 1977. She has worked for Otter Tail County since 1981 and began her service as the director in 2016. Many people ask her how she was able to stay in corrections for so long? She says she would choose it all over again.
Those who have worked with her find her deep commitment to helping others, especially juveniles, inspiring. “With over 41 years in public service she will be leaving a void,” said Tonya Bergren, probation officer. “She will be missed.” On May 21, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners honored Lutzwick’s dedication to the people of Otter Tail County with a plaque and resolution stating: “On a perennial basis, her performance of all job duties and responsibilities have been rated as outstanding, and her attributes have consistently been described as conscientious, dedicated, helpful, uplifting, loyal, well organized, accurate, punctual, an excellent role model for other agents and widely respected by fellow professionals.”
Lutzwick “fell in love” with working with juveniles while interning as a social work major with the Anoka County Community Corrections. “I found the work challenging and rewarding — never knowing what your day would be like,” replied Lutzwick. “I have always been proud to work in corrections.” The profession has seen many changes over the years. Early in her career officers did not have cellphones they had to use landlines for communication and carried appointment calendars not laptops. Today, reporting and documenting has increased, and her department sees more cases of mental health issues and severe chemical dependency addiction.
“We have a great staff that is invested in wanting a safe community. They do their best to promote people making better decisions,” said Lutzwick. “Probation officers are involved in situations with offenders that begin with compliance but without warning can turn hostile . . . which can place us in very dangerous positions.” Like many public service departments resources become limited. The need for more long-term placement of youth with severe mental health issues is increasing and is more difficult to find.
So, what does a probation officer do? Lutzwick says you need to want to do this job. One needs to be organized, patient and resilient while maintaining a sense of humor. Probation officers in Otter Tail County have caseloads that currently range from 70-90 offenders. Probation officers enforce court orders and are proactive in addressing public safety. The goal of probation is for the offender to gain insight into their behaviors to make better decisions in the future and successfully transition out of the corrections system.
Lutzwick’s compassion and commitment to her clients and staff is immediately evident. Joannie Gontarek, Probation Officer, shared, “She will be very missed. She has taught all of us so much. We have all learned from Desta.” Lutzwick admits it will be hard to leave but says, “I have been blessed. I have learned so much along this journey but it’s now time for me to travel a different road.”