Remarkable Women 2021: Vanessa Crawford

Local News

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) – Behind Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford’s nametag, sits a card that reads ‘the right prayers for every need.’

“I always think – there goes I, but by the grace of God,” Crawford said. “I treat people the way I’d like to be treated all the time.”

It’s something that’s been a guiding force for the Petersburg native as she’s dedicated her life to bettering her community.

“I enjoy what I do,” Crawford explained. “So, it’s not a job.”

Crawford works at her desk in Petersburg.

Crawford is currently in her 16th year as sheriff, but her journey to law enforcement didn’t start with a badge.

Right after college in July 1974, she landed as a job as a social worker at Central State Hospital. Then four years later, scored a job as a counselor in the Department of Corrections. Ultimately, moving up the chain of command.

“Early 90’s, I started running several facilities myself as the senior superintendent,” she said.

Crawford became the first female to run an all-male facility within DOC. She credits her 28 years of service to her background in social work.

“Oddly enough, some of the inmates back from corrections as well as Petersburg Jail constantly call me and say, ‘I just want to let you know I’m doing well. I’m still on the straight and narrow,” she said. “So, it’s all worthwhile.”

Crawford retired after that job, but said she was asked a number of times if she would run for sheriff.

“After staying retired for three years, I was asked again and I said, ‘Why not? Let’s see what happens.’ Here I sit, 15 years later.”

Crawford was also the only African American female sheriff in the United States from 2014 to 2017.

Her dedication to her community also goes beyond her badge.

Crawford is a trustee at her church, president of the Petersburg High School Booster’s Club and vice-chair of the Petersburg Task Force on Domestic Violence.

She is also a mother of five, grandmother to 14 and great grandmother to five. She says her strong family values were instilled in her by her late mother, Esther Reese.

“My mother was a very personable person,” she told 8News. “We do a lot of events here for the seniors and the community – she did it as well through our church. So, I think I’m her clone.”

Crawford says the best job she ever had is being a mother and grandmother. Crawford (right) pictured with family at Disney.

She’s now hoping to inspire another generation of women to use their faith and step up.

“I think females are stepping and realizing – hey, we can do the same thing. We can do the same job. I’m a little bias – but a little better,” she explained with a chuckle.

Since Crawford spoke with 8News, we’ve learned she’s been appointed vice-chair of Board of Governors for the Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association, the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting law enforcement that serve rural communities.

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