The heroin merchant sized up his deteriorating business situation. It was 2:15 p.m., and the crowd clustered in front of a liquor store at Seventh and S streets NW was getting nervous and starting to thin out.

Get it "before the heat" comes, the merchant announced in a cool voice, trying to coax a few more deals before the now-daily afternoon arrival of a phalanx of District of Columbia police officers trying to sweep drug traffickers out of this Shaw neighborhood.

"From a long-range point of view, they ain't doing nothing," the heroin merchant said confidently, eying the first of several police squad cars to pull up to the curb just before 2:30 p.m. "They can bust the nickel-and-dime man," he said, "they just going to disperse it around . . . to the more settled neighborhoods."

The dealer, in a white shirt and blue trousers, admitted he was selling heroin: "What do you think I'm out here for?" He and others nearby said police may push them off a particular street, but not out of the area.

"They should be out catching people who murdering and robbing people," said another dealer in a baby-blue jogging outfit. "They police gung-ho, gung-ho," he said between sips of wine wrapped in a brown paper bag. "That's why I drink wine."

Around this particular street corner, other illicit entrepreneurs hawked their own wares: pills to get you high or low; swigs of wine for 50 cents; and even record albums, $3 each and still in the plastic wrapper.

"People out here are penny-ante people trying to survive, trying to make a living," protested the heroin merchant.

These were some of the voices from the street on Day Three of the latest police crackdown along the Seventh Street corridor.

As a half-dozen uniformed officers took up posts at the intersection, the crowd of about 100 in the immediate area quickly headed for nearby streets and alleyways, where other police and narcotics officers were waiting.

Officers -- some of whom had been hiding in buildings to help identify drug dealers -- began making arrests. By late in the day, officials reported 23 arrests, mostly on narcotics charges, and confiscation of 130 bags of heroin with a street value of about $6,000.

The biggest catch came at 4 p.m. in the 900 block of U Street NW, where police, acting on a tip from one of their lookouts, searched three men and found $4,000 worth of heroin in the underwear of one.

As police took the drugs from a brown bag, the suspect began crying. His grandfather, who was driving by, rushed to his side. Police gently pulled the elderly man back as he buried his head in his hands and cried, "We just got him out." He told officers the youth had recently been released from custody on another drug charge.

Police have arrested more than 50 persons in the three days, but drug dealers said they doubted the police would keep up the pressure. One dealer called police presence an inconvenience, the price of doing business.

If police do disrupt the most visible markets, the dealer predicted, the price of heroin would go up as it becomes more difficult to buy. He said users would then have to commit more crimes to afford the drug.

"If they do stop it drug sales , what are they going to do about the people on drugs?" the dealer asked.