ANNAPOLIS — Throughout his law enforcement career Larry Tolliver championed a hands-on style of policing by going on ride-alongs with the rank and file and showing up unannounced at district stations.
Tolliver said he plans to lead in the same manner when he returns as the county’s Chief of Police Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of departments where they wouldn’t know the superintendent or the chief if he walked through the door,” Tolliver said. “I want them to know who I am and I want to know who they are.”
As head of the Maryland State Police and the county police department, it was not uncommon for Tolliver to go on ride-alongs with officers. During one such ride-along as the Maryland State Police superintendent in the early 1990s, a 17-year-old drug dealer fired a gun at the unmarked car occupied by the state’s top officer.
Last week, Tolliver was tapped by embattled County Executive John R. Leopold to take over as chief of police after Col. James Teare Sr. steps down July 31. Tolliver will earn $145,000 annually.
Throughout his law enforcement career, Tolliver has enjoyed unique relationships with officers and political elites. In-the-field exploits give the now 66-year-old cache with his subordinates and his political connections helped him return to his former post.
Although Tolliver’s return was met enthusiastically by the head of the county’s police union, he doesn’t come to the post untouched by criticism. His record includes allegations he allowed the “politicizing” of the police department and failing to act on sexual harassment claims made by female officers.
Tolliver is coming out retirement to oversee the department he left in 1998. His open-door policy and history with the county could help mend the strained relationship between officers and Leopold’s administration, said Fraternal Order of Police union chief O’Brien Atkinson.
“Tolliver has always focused on the positives the officers do every day,” Atkinson said. “That would be a change from where we are today.”
Atkinson said officer needs were not only heard but met during Tolliver’s previous stint with the county. He said when the department was having trouble with firearms jamming in the late 1990s, Tolliver delivered new guns to the officers “immediately” after being notified.
“He went right to action and had our new firearms,” Atkinson said.
In addition to developing bonds with the rank-and-file, Tolliver has also benefited from ties to some of the state’s power players during his career. He enjoyed a relationship with the late former governor William Donald Schaefer, who appointed him to the head of the state police and the as the Director of Enforcement to the state Comptroller, and recommended him for county police chief during his first tenure.
Tolliver was the chief of Schaefer’s Executive Protection Unit, and worked in the unit under former governor Marvin Mandel. He was appointed county police chief by former County Executive John Gary in January 1997.
“The governor recommended him to me and said this is a man worth looking at,” Gary said. “Every place you saw Schaefer — Tolliver was close by.”
Tolliver retakes the reins of the county department as Leopold prepares for a Sept. 4 court date on charges of misconduct and misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. Leopold is accused of using his police security detail of driving him to locations to take down an opponent’s campaign signs and ferrying him to parking lots and stand watch while he had sex with a county employee, as well as compile dossiers on political foes.
The March indictment alleges Teare knew about the activities but did not take action. Teare’s retirement was announced by the state prosecutor office and said it had concluded its investigation into the county police chief.
Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College and director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues, called Tolliver a “safe appointment” and a “calming voice.”
“Because the administration is in flux in some sense right now — (it) might not want to find someone…with a long term agenda,” Nataf said. “In the best of circumstances, Leopold is exonerated of all charges and both he and Tolliver stay there until the end of his term. It seems to me a safe appointment.”
Politics haven’t always been a bright spot on Tolliver’s resume. He was fired as county police chief during his first tenure after he was accused of “politicizing” the police department by incoming County Executive Janet Owens when photos of officers showed up in Gary’s campaign literature.
Owens said police had violated their own rules by posing for campaign literature for Gary. Owens replaced him with Tom Shanahan.
“I was asked to go take some photographs, not thinking there was anything political about it,” he said. “If I had that photo op again would I do it? No, I would not.”
Tolliver said Owens had another reason for getting rid of him.
“She had her own person she wanted as police chief,” he said. “The county executive should be able to pick their own staff.”
Tolliver retired from the Maryland State Police amid allegations he failed to act on sexual harassment claims made by female officers about their male counterparts. He said he was already planning his retirement from the state police when the allegations that he had ignored sexual harassment complaints first surfaced.
At the time, complaints were made to barracks supervisors. Tolliver instituted a policy that the complaints were to go to internal affairs and directly to the state police superintendent.
“Some of those issues should have been going directly to the superintendent — that is one of the things that I did do,” he said. “I didn’t tolerate those kinds of issues.”
Although, he previously served as county police chief Tolliver has no pension credit with the county. Tolliver said he will have the option of joining the county’s employee plan.
Tolliver lives in Queenstown but he and his wife own three homes in the county. His wife Shelia Tolliver is a former Annapolis alderman.