For 21 years Dennis Hill has been the voice on radio, the face on TV and the "police spokesman" in newspapers that have brought the city some of its worst and most depressing news.
Now he has become the bearer of more news: His own dismissal as director of public information for the Baltimore Police Department.
Since The Sun reported the story Saturday, Mr. Hill has received numerous calls of support, including one from an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer offering the governor's moral support, Mr. Hill said. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, called Mr. Hill at home.
A 19-year-old woman phoned Mr. Hill and said: "I grew up watching you on television. You're the only person in the whole department I know."
George Baumann, the veteran reporter with WJZ-TV, and Mark Miller, news director at WBAL radio, expressed outrage at Mr.Hill's firing.
"For 35 years I've dealt with the police department, and never, ever, have I had a better rapport with the department than I have through Dennis Hill," Mr. Baumann said. "He was the best they ever had.
"He became the image of the city police department on television. He made so many appearances he was the city police department."
Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods called Mr. Hill into his office last Thursday and "told me my services were no longer needed," Mr. Hill said this week during an interview in his office, where he continues to work for the time being. The commissioner told him he wanted someone else in the job, Mr. Hill said.
Mr. Hill asked twice whether he had done anything wrong, he said, and the commissioner said no. The commissioner gave him no termination date. The meeting lasted about two minutes, Mr. Hill said -- one for each decade of service.
Commissioner Woods declined to confirm Mr. Hill's dismissal last week, and he did not respond to requests for an interview this week. The commissioner indicated last week that the move was part of his "reassessment" of department operations.
"I have no ax to grind with Eddie Woods," Mr. Hill said this week. "I like the guy.
"He literally works seven days a week in this department. I'm not sure he even took one day's vacation last year. He's trying every way to give the people of Baltimore better police service."
Mr. Hill said he has not spoken with the commissioner since Thursday, but he has talked with a representative of the commissioner. Mr. Hill would not reveal what they talked about, but he did say: "There are things that can be done -- financially, placement-wise."
"This is about a problem we can clear up," he added. "I'm very confident we can clear it up to everybody's satisfaction -- to my satisfaction and the city's satisfaction."
Does he have to keep his job to be satisfied?
"I can be satisfied otherwise," he said.
Mr. Hill, 50, has been receiving $67,000 a year. In August, he will become eligible for an annual pension of slightly more than $20,000, he said, adding that if he leaves the city payroll now, he will have to pay a couple of thousand dollars into the fund before receiving his pension.
He has already received job offers, he said, adding that he could be happy working for another city department, for the state or for a private business.
"There're just a zillion things out there I'm interested in," he said. "People who know me won't be at all surprised at that statement.
"I don't get angry. I don't hold grudges. There are too many worthwhile things to do in this world to waste time with all that stuff."
Dennis Hill is two people, really.
He is the stone-faced police spokesman at the crime scene describing bloodstains on the sidewalk. This Dennis Hill never smiles.
He is also the tall, stocky, recognizable figure in the produce department, trapped against the pole beans by an elderly woman sputtering: "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
This Dennis Hill asks the woman where she went to high school. When she says a school other than his alma mater, Towson High, he says: "Well then, I didn't take you to the prom."
He plays a guessing game with her until she figures out who he is. This woman has seen the modest, easy-going, humorous side of Dennis Hill.
"He has a very dry sense of humor," said Lt. Mike Bass, who worked as Mr. Hill's assistant for nine years in the 1970s and '80s. "But he has the ability to be extraordinarily businesslike when he needs to be. There's absolutely no doubt who's in charge of the situation.
"But when it's all over, he has a good, healthy knack for being able to laugh not only at himself, but also at the organization itself. He releases tension that way."
Mr. Hill and the lieutenant had many good laughs over one incident at the Baltimore Zoo. Lieutenant Bass recalled that Mr. Hill was being interviewed by a television reporter next to the tiger cage.
Lieutenant Bass cannot remember the subject of the interview, but he cannot forget that a tiger suddenly began urinating all over Mr. Hill's leg. "He never missed a beat," Lieutenant Bass said of his former boss.