In the largest drug sweep in Arlington in memory, police have arrested 127 alleged street-level drug dealers and users who authorities say moved into the Arna Valley apartment complex after two highly publicized drug raids in nearby neighborhoods earlier this year.

Most of the 153 drug charges are for possession and distribution of small amounts -- $20 to $100 worth -- of cocaine and crack, a cocaine derivative. The arrests came over a three-week period and included individuals from Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and the District. All are awaiting preliminary hearings or trials, police said.

The sweep of Arna Valley, a low-lying apartment complex that hugs I-395 and South Glebe Road, represents a growing trend on the part of police to work from the bottom up in smashing the drug trade, officers said yesterday.

But they also expressed frustration at a process that is time-consuming, draining and seemingly never-ending.

"We're not just going to concentrate on the dealers, but also on the users -- it's a constant chain," said Deputy Chief David L. Reiten. " . . . Our goal in this is to put enough pressure on to move it completely out of the state.

"It's frustrating to the point that you wonder if you're making any inroads. You just have to be tenacious enough and not give up," he added. If dealers are pushed to other localities, "we haven't solved the drug problem in the region, but we've served our area. Everyone has to deal in their political reality."

Reiten said that police became aware of the problem in Arna Valley when residents and others barraged headquarters with complaints about increased drug-related activity there.

The calls followed highly publicized, stepped-up efforts by an Alexandria police tactical unit beginning in March in northern Arlandria, and a large sweep in the Green Valley area of South Arlington in July that led to indictments against 58 adults and six juveniles.

Dealers and users, forced to find a new site, chose Arna Valley, police said.

The sweep there involved a task force of 22 uniformed and undercover officers. The uniformed officers fanned out, scaring dealers into a smaller and smaller area where undercover officers were able to observe drug deals and make arrests, police said.

Reiten said the operation succeeded beyond their expectations.

Arna Valley is a triangular slice of South Arlington adjacent to the northeast border of Alexandria.

The police crackdown was confined to an area of 1950s two-story, brick apartments known as "the boxes." There are 580 one-bedroom apartments in the complex, spread out on neatly mowed lawns and joined by concrete walkways. Officials of Washington-based Legum & Norman Realty Inc., which manages the apartments, yesterday applauded police efforts.

The easternmost section of the complex, along South Glebe Road, was the location of most of the drug activity, police said. Those apartments are rented on a monthly basis, and the heavy rental traffic made the spot ideal for the comings and goings of drug dealers, police said.

The Arna Valley apartments have been a favorite of government employes, especially Pentagon and State Department workers, for many years. They are also home to immigrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, Central America and Asia, and to black and white Americans.

Residents said yesterday that they had become annoyed with increased loitering in the area and welcomed the police drug crackdown.

"It's gotten worse. They are out on the streets all over," said Abdi Ahmed Yusuf, a five-month resident. "I tell you, I don't know where they are coming from."

Nadine Greene, a frequent visitor to the complex, said nighttime seemed particularly busy for those in the drug trade. "There appears to be a lot of activity. We get knocks on the door at 3 or 4 in the morning, for the wrong house," she said. "It's people milling around all night. I'm glad to see" the police action.

Ahmed Motawie, vice president of Legum & Norman, said the management company had cooperated with police and welcomed the increased attention. "The police have been really outstanding," he said.