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Corban University

July 24, 2019

Faculty Sandra Flint Shares what it Takes to be a Criminal Justice Professional

“I’ll bring donuts for the person who can find the word ‘privacy’ in the U.S. Constitution,” says Sandra Flint. Although she’s been teaching part-time at Corban University since 2015, Flint’s upcoming retirement from the FBI has freed her to accept a full-time faculty position this fall in the Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology programs. Doubtless, hundreds more students will fall for her trick question, scouring the Constitution for a word that isn’t actually there.

“I really enjoy helping people better understand the Constitution,” Sandra says. She explains that people often misunderstand the Constitution and the way it’s meant to be interpreted. “They see the words and presume things are an absolute, when they aren’t necessarily.”

She gives the example of freedom of speech. “Do we have freedom of speech? Absolutely we do! Does it have limitations that are constitutional? Absolutely it does.” For example, words can be used to protest, but they can’t be used to start a riot. At the point speech becomes criminal in nature, it’s no longer protected. “So where does speech become criminal in nature? How do the public’s interests weigh against the individual’s interests?” These are the questions she asks her students to wrestle with.

Teaching students to think critically about their rights is one of Sandra’s greatest joys. She also enjoys challenging students to broaden their idea of what a career in criminal justice could actually look like—beyond what students see on TV shows like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds.”

When students encounter the term “criminal justice,” many of them picture law enforcement and criminal punishment, perhaps venturing as far as corrections, probation, and parole. “But what I actually want them to be thinking is, ‘private, city, county, state, regional, and federal.’ And then I want them to think, ‘preventative, responsive, and recovery.’”

When viewed through this matrix, the options for a career in criminal justice expand dramatically. “It could mean being a social worker in a private organization that helps people stay off drugs. It could be a social worker in a nonprofit organization that helps women recover from sex trafficking. It could be working in a law enforcement agency doing community outreach and education to try to prevent crime.”

Sandra hopes students leave her classes with a broader view of the justice system and the many roles they could play within it. “I want them to look really far and wide, because there’s so much out there.”

When Sandra first began her own journey as a law student at the University of Wyoming, she envisioned herself practicing family law—“divorce, adoption, bankruptcy, juvenile justice, things like that.” She envisioned herself coming alongside families in some of their most overwhelming moments and making the process easier and healthier for them. “I saw myself being part mental health counselor, part legal counselor.”

Her final year of law school, Sandra signed up for a legal services clinical internship, but the clinic quickly became full, and she was too far down the waitlist. But as her mother has said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” She was asked to join the prosecution assistance clinic instead. And while Sandra had never envisioned herself practicing criminal law, she figured it couldn’t hurt to add the clinical to her resume.

“I ended up assisting county attorneys and district attorneys around the southeastern quadrant of Wyoming. I learned so much about the criminal justice system. I finally understood it well enough to see its importance—and I enjoyed it.” She enjoyed it so much that when an FBI recruitment poster caught her eye on campus, she decided to attend the one-day recruitment event. “What’s the worst that can happen?” she thought. She filled out the screening application.

Before long, Sandra received a call inviting her to interview. Then to fill out the long-form application. Then to go in for a physical exam. Step by step, she began advancing through the process of becoming an FBI agent.

Two years passed before Sandra finally got the call inviting her to Quantico to train with a new class of FBI recruits. In the time since her initial interview, she had gained valuable experience as a deputy district attorney with the 7th district of Colorado and then as a legal writer and researcher. She had also married her husband, Mark, who was immediately supportive when the call came asking Sandra to relocate to Virginia for 16 weeks of basic agent training. Once again, Sandra set out with the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

But by the second day of training, she knew she was in the right place. The class was told why they had been chosen out of around 10,000 applicants. After the series of interviews, background checks (which included interviewing friends and neighbors), and even a polygraph test, each student had been selected for a reason.

“The FBI isn’t looking for the 4.0 student,” Sandra explains. “They’re looking for that person who is trustworthy, who can be counted on in possession of everything from national security to the confidence of the American people.” When she learned she’d been chosen because those values and that worthiness had been seen in her, she knew she had to give it everything she had.

Upon completing training, which included everything from defense tactics to firearms, Sandra was assigned to the Portland office. For much of her 28-year career, she specialized in white collar crime, eventually narrowing her focus to healthcare fraud.

Sandra explains that healthcare fraud could range from an individual seeking to fill the same prescription from multiple doctors, to an elaborate insurance company scam in which employees created a bogus doctor and filed bogus claims using real insurance beneficiaries. Sometimes medical billing departments would “upcode,” charging more than they should for services rendered. Other times, insurance companies would be billed for services that were entirely fictional.

“What I really enjoyed about investigating healthcare fraud,” says Sandra, “was the creativity that came out of it. The more creative our fraudsters get, the more creative we have to get in trying to battle healthcare fraud, and prove it if we find it.”

Although working for the FBI was often exciting and interesting, Sandra has to remind her students that it wasn’t quite like television. She gives the example of “Criminal Minds,” the TV show that follows the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) as they solve serial murders. She tells students, “The BAU doesn’t actually have their own plane, and they don’t jet across the country solving other offices’ cases.” But they do study behaviors and the thought processes that lead to those behaviors. “They make us more intelligent than we are without them.”

Sandra gives the example of a case where she needed to consult the BAU. She had gathered a good amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that a certain man had stolen some money. But he continued to deny the charge, despite a financial analysis that showed he had spent significantly more money than he had legally earned that year.

She sent transcripts of interviews, documentation of the financial analysis, and other records to the BAU in Virginia, asking for their advice before she interviewed the man one last time.

They noticed something she had already seen in the financial analysis, but which hadn’t meant much to her at the time: The man had spent much of the extra money gambling. The BAU consulted with Sandra and gave her a strategy for the final interview. “Here’s what you’re going to ask when you go back to your interview. You’re going to find ways to use the following terminology and work it into your questions: ‘What are the odds?’ or ‘Take a gamble on what would happen if . . .’”

So Sandra approached the interview through a gambling perspective. She talked to the man on his level, through a worldview he understood. The moment when he finally confessed and accepted responsibility for his actions was when Sandra said, “Dude, you’re not placing a safe bet here!” She was able to convince him that confessing was his best chance—the safest bet—for his future.

But not every case is rewarding or energizing. Sandra tells her students that there were days when, after weeks of searching for a missing child, they would learn he was deceased before the 911 call was ever made. Sometimes the outcome of a case was disappointing, frustrating, and saddening.

One of the cases that hit the hardest was the shooting at Umpqua Community College. After two long days working the case, Sandra remembers going out with her husband for pizza. In the middle of the restaurant, she suddenly found herself in tears.

“Mark, I am so sorry, I don’t know why I’m in tears,” she said. Her husband replied, “You may not know why you’re in tears, but I do.” He reminded her how gut-wrenching the UCC case had been, especially because it was so close to home.

She decided to meet with the FBI chaplain, and he helped her discover why this particular case—out of the hundreds of disturbing, tragic cases she’d dealt with—was affecting her. “It dawned on me: My kids were in college. My son was taking classes at Portland Community College, Sylvania Campus, taking Writing 115. And in reality, the line between what happened to those students and my own life was about three hours’ drive down I-5.”

There are times when a career like Sandra’s is sobering, frustrating, and tragic. This is one reason she feels called to Corban—to prepare students for the reality of the world they’ll face in a criminal justice or forensic psychology career.

“Are there some fun days? Absolutely. Are there nights you don’t think you can get yourself to sleep? Absolutely. But you need to go in with your eyes wide open as you make those choices and recognize that there are programs and services out there to help you be the best you can be.”

Many law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly aware of the need for mental health resources for their officers and employees. For example, the Bend Police Department offers yoga, meditation, and counseling to officers who have had traumatic experiences on the field.

“It’s not just firearms training,” Sandra says. It’s learning how to go home to your family as healthy as possible, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. “You have to have a good solid grip on your faith,” she says, “because it’s the armor you carry with you.”

Faith integration is just as important in criminal justice as it is in any other field. Believing in a sovereign, good God can give strength, hope, and purpose in the midst of some of humanity’s darkest moments. “God gave me the strength to do what I do,” Sandra says.

So far, transitioning from the FBI to teaching has been a joy for Sandra. “I’m moving from something that I’ve loved doing into something that I love doing.” She encourages her students to find a job they love as well. “We spend so much of our life with respect to our career; we should be enjoying it. Even if you have a tough job that doesn’t bring joy every day, you should still enjoy the privilege of getting to do it.”

Learn more about Corban’s Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology programs.