CLEARWATER — Police Chief Tony Holloway occasionally directs traffic at broken stop lights, tickets speeding drivers and he serves Thanksgiving dinner to families every year.
Despite his rise through the ranks of the Clearwater Police Department over the last 29 years, Holloway has remained grounded to the community he serves.
"A lot of chiefs and sheriffs, when they get upstairs, become very aloof. They are separated from the people down on the ground floor," said Clearwater Lt. Richard Harris. "Holloway? He talks to everybody."
Holloway, 52, will soon be the new St. Petersburg chief, marking the third department he will lead in less than a decade.
Born and raised in Tampa, Holloway attended Hillsborough High and later enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard, but left after a year in service because he couldn't swim the required 100 meters. In 1985, Clearwater hired him during the agency's push to recruit more minorities.
Among his first assignments was working downtown patrol under retired Lt. Nancy Miller.
"I was impressed with him because he was always such an energetic, hard-working officer," she said. "I always thought Tony was going to be successful."
Holloway's career flourished in the late 1980s when he joined the vice unit in North Greenwood. He was the first African American officer to work undercover selling drugs for the department. He patrolled the streets as a community policing officer during the day and worked undercover wearing sneakers and a sweat suit while selling crack cocaine at night.
Residents pulled chairs onto their porches to watch him work.
"He was a straightforward, honest individual," said O'Neal Larkin, a North Greenwood community activist who remembers Holloway's earlier years. "He was the type of person who loved to know everyone in the neighborhood."
From early on, then-police chief Sid Klein, who could not be reached for comment Monday, mentored Holloway and encouraged him to go back to school. Holloway did, obtaining a bachelor's degree in business management in 1999 from Eckerd College and an MBA in 2001 from the University of Phoenix.
In 2003, he became the first African American promoted to captain.
"Does race play an important part of it? No, not really," he told the Times in 2003. "We all wear the same uniform and the color is blue."
Four years later, Somerville, Mass. recruited him as its new police chief. During his two years there, the city's crime rate dropped significantly as Holloway instilled a community-first mentality within the agency, said Mayor Joe Curtatone.
"I've got to say Tony's policies worked," Curtatone said, adding Somerville's officers realized they shouldn't measure success just by arrest numbers.
In 2009, Klein announced his retirement and City Manager Bill Horne launched a national search. More than 100 candidates applied. Holloway's application came in on the final day of recruiting.
"I was very pleased that he was in the mix," Horne said. The city manager was looking for someone who could be a leader to officers and staff while establishing a relationship with the community.
In February 2010, Holloway returned to Clearwater.
Over the past four years, he started a unit that analyzes and cracks down on potential crime trends. He ingrained a sense of community policing among his staff that strengthened relations with businesses, residents and other departments, Horne said. He directed officers to park their cruisers and interact with residents, a strategy the chief calls "park, walk, and talk."
Among other accomplishments: starting a text messaging service that allows residents to report crimes anonymously, reinstating the department's marine unit by purchasing a $48,000 boat with forfeiture funds and expanding the crime scene unit.
"I just can't think of any chief out there any better than Tony," Horne said.
Holloway's greatest achievement, said Maj. Dan Slaughter: "He's brought us closer to the community than we ever were before."
Though oftentimes reserved, Holloway is known among officers and residents as a straightforward problem-solver.
"If he tells you he's going to do something, you can count on him," said Jonathan Wade, a North Greenwood community activist. "He has the respect of the community."
He has also maintained ties with the neighborhoods he once patrolled, including North Greenwood, a largely low-income neighborhood north of downtown. About three years ago, the department started Operation Graduate, a program that helps at-risk teens finish school on time.
"He came with some ideas on how to work with our youth, which was the major problem," said Maurice Mickens, president of the North Greenwood Community Coalition.
For several years, Larkin has counted on Holloway to serve Thanksgiving dinner in North Greenwood to families. Last November, more than 1,500 people attended Larkin's event.
"People like him only come through once in a while. They're not everyday people," Larkin said. "He is leaving a mark."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.