Dennis S. Hill, a former Baltimore City Police Department spokesman known for his mellow voice, authoritative presence and accessibility to the media, died Saturday of heart disease at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Forest Hill resident was 71.
In his 22 years in the Police Department press room, Mr. Hill was his agency's day-to-day public face on television and voice on radio. He was quoted almost daily in three newspapers. He handled the press when James A. "Turk" Scott, a Maryland House of Delegates member, was murdered. He also answered questions when Latonya Kim Wallace, an 11-year-old Reservoir Hill girl, was found dead after she left a neighborhood library in a case that remains unsolved.
"As mouthpiece for the city police, Hill is certainly one of the most quoted spokespersons in Baltimore," said a 1986 Evening Sun article. "And the phrase 'according to Dennis Hill' usually is blended into a bitter dollop about criminals and police and victims. ... Normally, when Dennis Hill speaks, all's not right with the world."
Family members said he got his start at a small Towson AM station in 1957. He swept floors and carried coffee cups and one day got a break when an ailing disc jockey needed a substitute. He practiced reading ads in the family basement to develop his voice.
Mr. Hill was also a fan of the radio shows of the 1940s and 1950s and listened as a youth to "The Great Gildersleeve" and "The Life of Riley."
He entered the Army in late 1959 and was assigned to the Army's Radio and Television school at Fort Slocum, N.Y. He was sent to France and Germany with the Armed Forces Network. While in Orleans, France, he met his future wife, Martine Gillot. He broadcast the LeMans auto race, covered a British golf tournament and did a feature on an asparagus festival. He and his wife briefly owned a French bakery in Bel Air.
He returned to Baltimore and joined WFBR-AM as a street reporter. He was also a news anchor and on occasion a disc jockey. Family members recalled that he covered the roof collapse of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Brooklyn during a light snowstorm when its pews were filled with schoolchildren. He also stood on Lombard Street during the 1968 riots as shots rang out from a public housing high-rise.
Mr. Hill went on to become WITH radio station's news director.
In 1970, Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau chose him to become director of public information.
In 1982, he told a Sun reporter: "I came here with the intention of staying 18 months. You know, my philosophy of things is to have a good time. If I wake up in the morning and don't want to go to work, I quit."
After taking the job, he became known as a public information officer who picked up a telephone and took all calls.
"He was just outstanding," said former Baltimore Sun and News American reporter Joe Nawrozki. "His knowledge of the department was very thorough. I cannot count the number of times I called him at his home, no matter the hour, and he answered. He could give off-the-record information too, but if he said, 'No comment,' he meant no comment."
Mr. Hill was busy in the Pomerleau years. There was a police strike in 1974, more than 1,000 bags of heroin were found to be missing from the departmental property room, there was a state Senate committee report in 1976 alleging widespread police spying on innocent people and organizations, and there was looting after a 1979 snowstorm.
Baltimore County Police Department detective Sgt. Jay Landsman recalled Mr. Hill's ability to work with criminal investigators.
"In all the high-profile cases, Dennis would come to us and ask, 'What can I do for you to get the word out?' He was helpful to us because there were times when we investigators did not always realize how useful the media can be," said Mr. Landsman, who was a Baltimore City Police Department detective. "With Dennis, you weren't afraid to deal with the media."
Roger Twigg, who was a Baltimore Sun police reporter, said, "Whatever Dennis was giving out, you could rely upon it 100 percent. He was certain his information was accurate."
Mr. Twigg, who lives in Glen Burnie, recalled Mr. Hill as "an energetic and accessible spokesman."
In early 1992, Mr. Hill was called into Police Commissioner Edward Woods' office and told he no longer had a job. The dismissal generated news stories and reaction.
George Baumann, who was a WJZ-TV veteran reporter, said at the time, "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. He was the best they ever had."
Mr. Hill then became a consultant to the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland.
Services are private.
Survivors include his wife of nearly 50 years; a son, Christopher Hill of Forest Hill; three brothers, Dr. Alan F. Hill of Towson, Robert M. Hill of Sebring, Fla., and Douglas Hill of Huntingtown in Calvert County; and a granddaughter.