Former Anne Arundel police chief Tolliver to return to helm

Tolliver is shown at the beginning of his last tenure, replacing retiring Anne Arundel County Police Chief Robert Beck. Tolliver was Maryland State Police Superintendent during the Schaefer administration.
Tolliver is shown at the beginning of his last tenure, replacing retiring Anne Arundel County Police Chief Robert Beck. Tolliver was Maryland State Police Superintendent during the Schaefer administration. (Perry Thorsvik)

Anne Arundel County's beleaguered police force will be commanded by a former Maryland State Police superintendent and political survivor who has led the county department once before.

Larry W. Tolliver will take over as chief on Tuesday, more than a dozen years after he last supervised Anne Arundel police and three weeks after current Chief James Teare Sr. decided to retire amid a criminal investigation.

Tolliver, 66, ascended to several top positions from a job as former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's security officer. He emerged from retirement Thursday to lead a suburban police department beset by low morale and internal strife.

Six weeks after Tolliver begins the $145,000-a-year job, his new boss, County Executive John R. Leopold, will stand trial on allegations he used a police security detail for personal and political gain.

Tolliver has had brushes with controversy. His time at the state police included a Baltimore strip club raid in which officers were found to have spent $98,000 largely on liquor and "amusements." And he was dismissed from his last tenure in Anne Arundel County after being criticized for officers' participation in campaign ads.

Officers and political leaders in Anne Arundel County received Leopold's appointment of Tolliver with optimism, welcoming Tolliver's open-door policy, forthright manner and experience in police leadership.

"It allows us to put some closure to the unrest in the Police Department," said Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican.

O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, remembers Tolliver as chief during the late 1990s when Atkinson was a patrol officer.

"It was interesting because he would walk around to different stations and different districts. He seemed to know people's names, and it was a different time," Atkinson said, expressing hope that the department's recent days of "governance by press release" have ended.

"The fact that he called us from the executive's office, personally, before this was announced, shows what a difference it will be," he said.

Tolliver said he plans to resume a management style that rests on making himself accessible, building morale and attending community meetings.

"Any officer or civilian can make an appointment to come in and talk to me," he said. "I never put myself on a pedestal where I couldn't be reached. I remember when I was a young trooper coming up, you never saw the boss. I never wanted to be that way. I'll walk into a station and ride with an officer."

Tolliver said Thursday he planned to run the department, not arrive as a caretaker until the next county executive takes office. He has already scheduled meetings with union leaders on his first day and secured Leopold's promise that the executive won't be a "quasi-chief," inserting himself into departmental affairs.

Leopold said he interviewed a half-dozen candidates, all of whom were from Maryland, and some from Anne Arundel County, including people currently in the Police Department. In the wake of Teare's retirement, Leopold had named Maj. Pam Davis acting chief, but Tolliver's appointment means Davis will not lead the department.

He said Tolliver appealed to him, in part, because of Tolliver shared his philosophy on listening.

"He understands the importance of that grass-roots, one-on-one interaction with the men and women of the Police Department," Leopold said.

Tolliver's first appointment on the day he starts will be a meeting with Teare, whose retirement was announced this month by state prosecutors, who said his departure marked the closing of their investigation into Teare's conduct.

The Maryland state prosecutor charged Leopold this spring in a five-count indictment that alleges he ordered detectives on his security detail to — among other things — prevent his two girlfriends from meeting, compile dossiers on perceived political detractors and uproot an opponent's campaign signs. Prosecutors allege officers' complaints reached Teare but that he did not put an end to the errands.

C. Edward Middlebrooks, a former County Council chairman who worked with both Tolliver and Teare, called Tolliver "a good choice" for the department's future.

"He's got more of that fatherly, listening, slow-to-react approach," Middlebrooks said.

Tolliver's career has close ties to Schaefer — the late governor left Tolliver $2,000 in his will — and also has dealt with a few political maelstroms.

"We all learn from some of our failures and look for new peaks in your career, and what will help you with the next decision. I like to think I learned from my mistakes," Tolliver said.

An audit of a 1994 state police raid on The Block in Baltimore showed officers spent $98,000 on "investigative" costs that turned out to be mostly liquor and "amusements." Tolliver was superintendent at the time and ordered the review of the high-profile operation, from which some charges were dropped because of questionable police practices. Tolliver also transferred several supervisors.

His tenure also ushered in the "Maryland's Most Wanted" television show, a community-policing program known as Operation People, and Operation Night Ride to expand community involvement in crime prevention.

Former Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary hired Tolliver — at Schaefer's suggestion — to lead the county's Police Department in 1997. But Gary's successor, Janet S. Owens, dismissed Tolliver after he allowed on-duty officers to appear in campaign print ads for Gary. The county's Ethics Commission found that Gary had violated county ethics laws.

He went on to a tax-enforcement job with Schaefer's comptroller office. One of the first people he cracked down on was himself; he and his wife had bought out-of-state furniture online and didn't pay the Maryland tax.

"His strength is he is Mr. Straight," Gary said Thursday. "He runs his office by the book. ... He does the good things you need to do to run a department, but he also goes to bat for his officers."

Gary recounted that when he told Tolliver he saw county police officers speeding down the highway to get to court, Tolliver called in each officer for a verbal lashing.

"That kind of stuff makes the rank and file know that someone is watching them, and someone is going to hold you accountable," Gary said, adding that Tolliver's first order of business as chief was to make sure the officers got new pistols and holsters.

"I understand the things that have happened in the Police Department are questionable," Gary said of the allegations affecting the department. "They would not have happened if Tolliver was there. I'm certain of it. He wouldn't have stood for it."



Recommended on Baltimore Sun