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Virginia Sheriffs’ Association
The Voice of Virginia’s Sheriffs & Deputies

City of Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford is a wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother: she is also a trailblazer in the law enforcement community, serving as a the first female Sheriff of Petersburg and the longest serving elected official in the city of Petersburg. She proudly states that she has one of the best staffs in the Commonwealth. Her favorite scripture is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” And, in 2022, Sheriff Crawford made history as the first African American female to be recognized as National Sheriff of the Year. Read on to learn more about Sheriff Crawford’s many contributions and achievements:

Your career in public service is full of pioneering moments: first female Sheriff of the city of Petersburg, first female to run an all-male facility in the Virginia Department of Corrections, the longest serving elected official in the city of Petersburg, and the first African American female to be recognized as National Sheriff of the Year in 2022. What does it mean to you to be setting the standard for females and for African Americans in your community and beyond?

Setting the standard for females and African Americans in the community and beyond represents breaking barriers, inspiring future generations, and advocating for inclusivity and diversity in public service. My trailblazing achievements signal progress and equality while showcasing the importance of representation and empowerment. By charting new territory and achieving recognition for my service, I hope I have paved the way for others to follow in my footsteps while demonstrating the limitless potential for individuals of all backgrounds to make a lasting impact in our field.

What made you decide to seek a career in law enforcement?

Actually, after graduating college, I began a social work career. After about four years, I became bored, and I applied to work for the Virginia Department of Corrections to be a counsellor.  After many years of being on the treatment side of corrections, I applied and was promoted to the position of assistant superintendent of a work release unit first and then I found that I enjoyed the security side of corrections. So, from that point on, I continued to be promoted until I ran several facilities prior to retirement from the VADOC. And, when I became sheriff, it was just like corrections, but locally. So, I continued my career locally, doing what I enjoyed so much in my hometown.

What do you hope youth in the Petersburg community and beyond will learn from you?

I hope that youth in the Petersburg community and beyond will learn the power of perseverance, courage, and dedication through my example. I want them to understand that no dream is too big, and no obstacle is insurmountable with hard work and determination. I aim to inspire them to embrace challenges, break stereotypes, and strive for excellence in all their endeavors. By showing them the importance of service, leadership, and inclusivity, I hope to instill in them a sense of empowerment and the belief that they, too, can make a positive impact in their community and beyond.

What is your most proud accomplishment as Sheriff?

One of my proudest accomplishments was, out of over 3,000 Sheriffs in the United States, being the first woman and being the first living African American to be recognized as the National Sheriff of the Year in 2022 and in the 84 year history of the National Sheriff’s Association. This prestigious honor acknowledges my dedication, leadership, and impact in the field of law enforcement. It represents the culmination of hard work, trailblazing spirit, perseverance, and commitment to serving my community with excellence. My second proudest moment was when I was first elected 19 years ago, was having my then 3-year-old grandson stop everyone we saw to let them know that his grandmother was the Sheriff in Petersburg.

How has being involved in VSA and VSI impacted you professionally? And personally?

Being involved in VSA and VSI has greatly enriched my professional life by expanding my network, enhancing my skills, and providing valuable learning opportunities. Personally, it has fostered lifelong friendships, increased my confidence, and deepened my passion for advocating for social change and equality in society. 

What advice would you give to newer sheriffs and deputies?

  1. Embrace continuous learning
  2. Build strong relationships: Foster positive relationships with colleagues, community members, and other agencies. 
  3. Prioritize safety: Always prioritize your safety and the safety of others in every situation.
  4. Practice empathy and professionalism: Treat everyone with respect and empathy, regardless of the situation. Professionalism and integrity are fundamental to earning trust and respect within the community.
  5. Take care of your well-being: Law enforcement can be mentally and emotionally demanding. Take care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being by seeking support when needed and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

By following these principles, newer sheriffs and deputies can navigate the complexities of their roles with confidence and effectiveness.  

Sheriff Crawford’s Bio:

On December 15, 2005, The Honorable Vanessa Reese Crawford was sworn in as the first female Sheriff for the City of Petersburg. Sheriff Crawford was born and raised in the city of Petersburg. She was re-elected on November 3, 2009 and started her 2nd term as Sheriff, January 1, 2010. She ran unopposed for the office of Sheriff in 2013 and began her 3rd term January, 2014. On January 1, 2018, Sheriff Crawford began her 4th term as Sheriff in the city of Petersburg. And Sheriff Crawford started her 5th term as Sheriff on January 1, 2022 and is currently the longest serving elected official in the city of Petersburg.
— First Female to run all male facility in the Virginia Department of Corrections, Retired with over 28 years of service.
— From 2014 until 2017, only African American Female Sheriff in the United States.
— First Sheriff in the Commonwealth of Virginia to attain the certification by the Department of Justice as a PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Auditor
— Trustee at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va.
— Liaison for Security Ministry at Good Shepherd Baptist Church, Petersburg, Va.
— President of the Petersburg High School Boosters Club
— Past President of the Petersburg Kiwanis Luncheon Club
— Unanimously elected by all Sheriffs in Virginia as President (2017-2018) of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association
— Elected as President of the Virginia Correctional Association-2016-2018
— Formerly a Member and Vice Chair of the Petersburg School Board-2001-2005 (Resigned because elected Sheriff in 2005)
— Formerly unanimously elected as President of the Virginia Sheriff’s Institute
— Honored in the General Assembly-House of Delegates in 2018 with Joint resolution, HJ 274, in her honor and for her service.
— Vice-Chair of the Petersburg Task Force on Domestic Violence- 2017-present
— Selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia Correctional Association-2016
— Served 4 terms as President of the Petersburg-Dinwiddie Crime Solvers Board
— Named “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” by YOVASO (Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety) 2013
— Selected as 2012 Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen Law Firm Hometown Hero (Also in 2023)
— Elected to serve on the Board of FeedMore, Richmond, Va. 2013-2018
— Received Medal of Merit for the National Sheriff’s Association “Sheriff of the Year” Award-2014, 2015, 2017
— Appointed by the Governor of Virginia, The Honorable Terry McAuliffe, to serve on the Criminal Justice Services Board-July, 2014; Reappointed in July, 2017
— Recognized by Petersburg Citizens as one of Petersburg “Superstars” August, 2017
— Organized Petersburg Task Force on Domestic Violence Training Institute-October, 2016, 2017, 2018
— Organized the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” Event. A Men’s March Against Domestic Violence.,April 2017 April, 2018
— Organized first Autism Walk in the City of Petersburg, June, 2018
— Formerly honored with 2 resolutions in her honor for her dedication and community service from the House of Delegates, HJ 332 and by the Senate, Senate Joint Bill 182.
— Featured in “O” Oprah Magazine as one of “12 Most Politically Unusual” in this country in 2012
— Awarded the Sojourner Truth Award from the Petersburg Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., May, 2018
— Appointed to Governor of Virginia’s, Ralph Northam’s Transition Team, 2018
— Achieved certification through the VSI Certification Program thus VSI Certified (VSIC). March, 2018
__ Profiled by FOX TV, WRLH, in honor of Black Women’s History Month-April 2018
— Awarded the MAGNUS Leadership Award from the National Command & Staff College and the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development June, 2017
— Is a certified auditor for the American Correctional Association
— Received the Social Justice Transformer Award from the Community Transformers Foundation, November, 2019
— Received Nathaniel Gatlin Award from the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce in 2020
—Received the 2021 Central Virginia “Remarkable Woman Award” from WRIC Channel 8
—Appointed as the Vice Chair on the Board of Governors on the Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association (SRLEEA)-A National Law Enforcement Agency
—Appointed to serve on the National Board of “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” (National Organization)
—Appointed unanimously to serve as a member of the Crater District Area Agency on Aging; Currently the Vice Chair
—Appointed by the Governor of Virginia to serve on the Alzheimer’s Disease And Related Disorders Commission
—Unanimously Elected in 2022 as President of the The Virginia Association of Local Elected Constitutional Officers
—Unanimously Elected by the The National Sheriff’s Association as “Sheriff of the Year” for 2022 in the country (First female elected in the 82 year history of the National Sheriff’s Association consisting of over 3,000 Sheriffs in the United States)
—Honored with Senate Joint Bill 199 March 9, 2022-Resolution from the Senate and the House of Delegates in commending Sheriff and in recognition of her receiving the National Sheriff’s Association “Sheriff of the Year” Award
—Appointed as the Chair of the Board of Governors of the National Association of Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association in December, 2022
—Nominated and selected as Allen and Allen 2023 Hometown Heroes Award
—Unanimously Elected in December, 2023 as President of the National Association of the Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association
—Received 2023-2024 “Champion for Children” award from the Richmond Continental Societies, Inc.
—Received Award from Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Petersburg Alumni Chapter