The longtime sheriff of Arlington Co. — and one of Virginia’s first female sheriffs — is stepping down

The longtime Arlington County sheriff — and one of the first female sheriffs in the Commonwealth of Virginia — announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election and will step down when her term ends next year.

The longtime Arlington County sheriff — and one of the first female sheriffs in the Commonwealth of Virginia — announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election and will step down when her term ends next year.

Sheriff Beth Arthur has served as the county sheriff since 2000, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy. She won the post in a special election later that year and was re-elected five times. Before being appointed sheriff, Arthur worked in the office for 14 years as a budget analyst and administrative director.

She was last elected in 2019 with more than 97% of the votes.

“Honestly, when I ran four years ago, I knew this would be my last term. And now I think it’s time – it’s time to hang up my spurs,” Arthur, 63, told WTOP in an interview. “I’ve literally lived more than half my life here, and I think it’s time for new leadership and new opportunities for other people.”

As sheriff, Arthur oversees a staff of nearly 300 people and oversees the county jail – the Arlington County Adult Detention Center – and the security of the county’s court system.

In a press release, Arthur said she was proud of the sheriff’s office staff “and the tireless work they do to ensure that the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is well run and that anyone who is remanded in custody is… , treated with dignity and respect.

Arthur’s announcement, which comes about a year before the end of her term, comes after an audit earlier this year of county jail deaths.

Seven inmates in prison have died in the past seven years, six of them black people, including Darryl Becton, who died in October 2020 and whose family has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

“I am in no way exonerating, shape or form, or understanding and carrying much weight of anyone who dies in our care,” Arthur said, adding that some of the deaths included underlying medical issues and content abuse issues. In response, the facility has made changes to drug screening and scanning technology.

“If anyone is suggesting that people aren’t receiving . . . medical care, that’s factually incorrect — they are,” she said.

During her tenure, Arthur said she was proud of efforts to expand programs for inmates at the facility, including major upgrades to the facility’s library. A new initiative is introducing tablets with podcasts and self-help resources for inmates to use.

“And what’s grown really a lot, especially in the last couple of years, is mental health services,” she said. “Our population has declined greatly, but the people we deal with care and work a lot more.”

Arthur has in the past spoken openly about the challenges of a broken mental health system, where people in crisis don’t have access to hospital beds and basically end up in prison.

“The system is not fixed,” she said, noting the temporary closure of many of Virginia’s eight state psychiatric hospitals to new patients over the past year, resulting in long waits for a bed to be made available.

“We deal with it all the time,” she says. “The police deal with it all the time. There are things being tried to alleviate some of that (for) my staff and police personnel…but they are not in place yet.”

She added: “The system is no better. We’re all trying to do better and do better, but we’re not there yet.”

“Are you speaking as a sheriff or as a mother?

Reflecting on her long career, Arthur admitted she doesn’t look back. She said she’s looking forward to traveling — “I’ve got my passport ready” — and spending more time with her family. Her husband retired about a year and a half ago and one of their adult sons recently returned to the area.

Other moments in her long career that she is proud of include her office’s work on 9/11.

Arthur had only been in office about a year when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

“I was looking out my office window … I could see this plume of smoke coming out of the Pentagon,” she said.

Arthur, a Virginia county’s first female sheriff, immediately called the jail and initiated a temporary lockdown. Then she had to think about how to pick up her two little sons from daycare and school.

When she finally reached her husband in DC, she recalled, “He’s like, ‘You’ve got to get the kids’… And I was like, ‘Hello? I’m the sheriff.” For example, I’m busy right now.” (A friend helped pick up one of her sons, she said).

She remembers the heroism of the moment.

Some of their deputies served as first responders as they searched through the rubble.

The prison cafeteria also became operational to prepare meals for first responders.

“I’ve had judges come to the prison and say, ‘What can we do to help you?’ and literally went into the prison kitchen and helped prepare sandwiches and food along with the inmates at our facility,” she said.

She added: “Boy, circumstances like this get you your sea legs. ”

Later, at the command center set up to direct the post-9/11 emergency response, Arthur recalled a meeting attended by the district head, the school principal, and other officials.

“I remember the county clerk looking at me and saying, ‘Are you speaking as a sheriff or as a mother?'” Arthur recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, you can’t take the mother out of the sheriff. And you can’t take the sheriff away from your mother. So you can take it however you want. But I’m just giving you my opinion.’”