D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's much-touted effort to put more uniformed officers on the street is being criticized by Northeast Washington residents who say it has done little to stop drug sales in their neighborhoods and by others who say it has undermined the department's investigative work.

Residents just north of Capitol Hill rallied last night outside the Special Investigations Division, one of the first public displays of discontent with the performance of Ramsey, who since May 1998 has focused police presence in neighborhood precincts.

That strategy has come under attack by residents who continue to complain about inadequate police patrols and by critics who say that Ramsey's program to decentralize the department has hindered police efforts to gather information about crimes, particularly those involving drugs.

Narcotics detectives gradually have been moved into the seven patrol districts, rather than being based at the Special Investigations Division at 1215 Third St. NE.

About 15 protesters yesterday evening confronted Cmdr. Thomas McGuire outside the division headquarters, saying there has not been sufficient patrolling of their neighborhood by beat officers in recent months.

"Do you feel safe in this neighborhood?" Capitol Hill resident Robert A. Johnson asked McGuire.

"These situations would not be tolerated in Georgetown or in Adams-Morgan," said Shaw resident Anise Jenkins.

"This near Northeast area, from Benning Road to North Capitol [Street], we need additional officers over here," Daniel M. Pernell, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in that area, said before the protest. "You go to Georgetown, you see four of them in Starbucks. You come over here, we can't even get one on the phone."

Loree Murray, president of a group called Near Northeast Citizens Against Crime and Drugs and a protest organizer, said there has been a resurgence in open-air drug dealing and even drive-by shootings, an upsurge she hadn't seen since the worst of the crack cocaine epidemic during the 1980s.

Such drug deals are taking place just yards from the narcotics division building, she said. "We cannot understand how these officers can continue to ignore drug activity in their back yard," Murray said.

Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, Ramsey's top aide, said the department is following a strategy of attacking the broad bases of street crime.

"It is not something that is going to happen overnight," he said, adding that rates of major violent crime have declined in the District for three years in a row.

Residents also complain that the District's patrol service areas--set up by former police chief Larry D. Soulsby to help officers become intimately familiar with a community--lack enough officers to staff effective beat patrols.

"When you have people at court, on vacation, off sick, then . . . you simply can't patrol an area as large and diverse as ours," said Leslie Thompson, of Northeast.

The residents have joined a growing chorus of critics of the police administration's move to decentralize the department.

Carl T. Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent and a frequent critic of the department, said the department "really has no drug-fighting plan or effective drug-fighting force anymore, and it's basically open season, a free ride, for a lot of these drug dealers on the street."

Rowan said decentralization has improved the public relations more than it has public safety.

Ramsey's use of a summer mobile task force of officers to target high-crime neighborhoods also was criticized by Ronald E. Hampton, an officer in the department for 23 years who is now executive director of the National Black Police Association.

"When the 300 police officers come to the area, the people involved in criminal activity have the sense to leave the area and return later," Hampton said.

Gainer said the summer mobile force has targeted six of the worst drug markets. The push to put officers in patrol districts has not diminished citywide policing, he said. "We've got to give this strategy time to work," he said.