His bullhorn is word on street in Curtis Bay Lewis aggressively confronts area's ills

June 28, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The young toughs are back at the corner of Locust and Pennington selling drugs to the children of Curtis Bay, and Frank Lewis won't let it go. He grabs his orange-and-white bullhorn, walks to within five feet of the dealers, and yells into the horn as loud as he can: "Get off the corner!"

"Who are you?" one teen-ager asks.

"Citizens on Patrol!" he yells, turning on the bullhorn's siren as the youths walk briskly away. "And I want you out of Curtis Bay!"

Dozens of city neighborhoods have community patrol groups, but Frank Lewis' may well be the most aggressive and confrontational. He calls the police, like the other patrol groups, but he also confronts street people, detains suspects and chases after lawbreakers in his white '82 Ford van with the orange siren swirling on top. One time, he says, he chased a guy who picked up a prostitute all the way to Pasadena.

The cops have told him to back off, that he is not a police officer. Some neighborhood residents -- in one case, a police officer -- have filed complaints or had him put in jail for a night. He has been beaten and shot in the head. But he won't budge.

"You want to buy drugs, you want to prostitute, then go do it uptown," says Lewis, 32. "I might suggest in front of City Hall. We're chasing these folks back up that way."

Uptown is his obsession. In Curtis Bay, the city's southeastern tip, it is gospel that city officials -- those bureaucrats up north -- are content to push drug addicts and prostitutes and trash to their neighborhood without providing sufficient services for the community. In 1991, Curtis Bay residents tried to break away from Baltimore and join Anne Arundel County, but the effort failed.

If anyone can be said to personify Curtis Bay's fiercely independent streak, it's Lewis, who has lived there the last 12 years. And his patrols, despite the complaints, have made him a popular figure in the neighborhood.

Earlier this month, Lewis helped force the resignation of Curtis Bay Community Association president Sam Cannan, an antique radio and phonograph shop owner. Lewis' get-tough approach has made him the favorite to fill Cannan's place in the September election.

"Frank has a following," says the Rev. Cameron Coe, pastor at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church. "He can turn people out for these meetings."

It would be Lewis' second go-round as president. Two years ago, he had the job and held several successful events, but was forced out after what has come to be known as the Turkey Incident. A Curtis Avenue resident donated some turkeys at Christmastime to feed the poor. Lewis, who was in charge of distribution, gave some of them to Citizens on Patrol volunteers, and the community objected.

"I made a mistake," he says.

After he lost the presidency early last year, Citizens on Patrol, which had dozens of volunteers working regular shifts, began to break up. A command post that Pennington Hotel owner Vernon Street had set up on the building's first floor stayed empty. But this year, as drug trafficking in Curtis Bay appeared to be back on the rise, Lewis got the bullhorn out and turned the van siren on.

'We need cops like Frank'

With other residents, he is back on the streets most nights, in full regalia: black Fila high-tops, gray T-shirt and blue shorts. His close-cropped hair makes him look the part. The neighbors call him "Super Cop."

"We need cops like Frank. A bunch of them," says Rylow Williams, 29, a sheet metal worker, adding that residents must "clean up this neighborhood physically, if we have to."

"Some police overlook stuff or let it slide," says Williams, "but not Frank."

Lewis says he thought about being a cop when he was growing up in the tough 100 block of W. Clement St. in South Baltimore. He never knew his father, but his mother raised him and his stepfather, Bill Lewis, helped push him through Southern High School.

He has shuffled between jobs, working in distribution for Hecht's. Once, in his early 20s, he applied to be a police officer, even took the test. "But it didn't work out," he says. "It turned out I didn't have the right temperament. I have kind of a bad temper."

That temper has landed him in trouble with the law several times. A review of court records shows charges for disorderly conduct or assault going back 12 years. And six years ago, Lewis got into a fight with another man at the Pennington Avenue 7-Eleven over a slice of pizza. The man pulled out a gun and shot Lewis in the back of the head. He spent a few days in Shock Trauma.

"Frankie's not going to back down, and I don't worry about him," says his wife, Terry. "He can pretty much take care of himself."

Headed for trial July 19

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