Said Tolliver, "You have to be involved with people and work with everyone. You have to know what's going on in the trenches."
Tolliver sat down with police unions before meeting with the brass after taking office Aug. 1. "I told them, 'I can't offer you money, but I sure could use some advice here,' " he said.
He got an earful.
That Tolliver has made decisions quickly has boosted morale — though he hasn't necessarily agreed with the union, Atkinson said.
In his first weeks on the job, Tolliver gave out more than a dozen more take-home cars and got Leopold to promise that replacing the dilapidated police academy facilities would be a priority. He also began talking to county officials about scrapping a much-despised rule that requires first-responders to submit to alcohol and drug testing if they are involved in even a minor accident in a county vehicle. And he gave commanders of the four police districts more autonomy while streamlining the bureaucracy at headquarters.
"I got my tail chewed off the other day. But it's like your father telling you something," said Tim Altomare, commander of the Northern District. Altomare had his hands in his pockets on one occasion and then his radio shoved into a pocket instead of clipped to his belt.
Among the lingering issues are those in the criminal and civil cases involving Leopold. Prosecutors charge that the county executive used his police protection detail for personal and political gain; Leopold denies any wrongdoing. A civil suit claims that Leopold used the Police Department to get rid of a female employee who complained about his behavior. He rejects that allegation, too.
Tolliver said he's learned a lot from his experiences over the years — including that he didn't like mortuary science, which he'd studied briefly for a possible second job during his early years as a trooper with the Maryland State Police.
"Your mistakes, you learn a lot from them," he said.
He rose — some say largely due to loyalty — to become chief of the executive protection unit under former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and then superintendent of the Maryland State Police from 1992 to 1995.
But there were controversies during his years as superintendent.
From the botched state police raid on The Block in Baltimore, he learned about the need for hands-on management and tight controls, he said. A review that he ordered revealed that officers spent $98,000 on liquor and "amusements." Some cases had to be dropped, and some officers lost their jobs.
He left the state police amid a highly publicized sexual harassment scandal and lawsuits in which female troopers said complaints went unaddressed. Before he was out — Gov. Parris N. Glendening brought in a new superintendent — Tolliver said all sexual harassment complaints would come to him, and he set up a panel to address the problem.
Later, as Anne Arundel's police chief, he was criticized for letting then-County Executive John G. Gary use police officers in his 1998 re-election campaign materials. Gary lost, and his successor — who had teachers in her campaign material — ousted Tolliver. The county ethics commission faulted Gary, but not Tolliver.
Soon after, he began working for Schaefer in the state comptroller's office, running field enforcement. And when Schaefer retired, so did he.
Derek Fink, Arundel's council chairman and a Pasadena Republican, described Tolliver as "the right man for these times."
"He likes being a policeman. That's his life," said Mike Golden, who knows Tolliver from their time working for Schaefer in the comptroller's office.
If things become intolerable, Tolliver could return to retirement with his wife of 43 years — Sheila Tolliver has been his sweetheart since they attended Annapolis High School — and their fuzzy bichon frise, Luke.
Ultimately, though, Tolliver said he wants to see the department thrive, its "kids" at the top of their game and loving it.
"These young people are going to run the department," he said.