Denise Baken, who lives around the corner from the notorious illegal drug market of Hanover Place NW, recently found packets of cocaine hidden in her front yard amid the geraniums and the ivy.
The invasion of her husband's carefully tended garden and the continued presence of drug dealers on her block were sure signs to Baken that police failed in their well-publicized attempt, called "Operation Beat It," to close down the city's biggest cocaine street market.
"It's like 'Operation Beat It' never happened," said Baken, who has lived on nearby O Street for five years.
"It's going more than full tilt now. When I found that coke in our garden, I was in awe. For the first time it hit me. They [the drug dealers] are entrenched."
Police officials now concede that they may never be able to eradicate drugs from the Hanover Place neighborhood. They say that drugs are a pervasive problem throughout the country, and that until the supply of illegal drugs is shut off and drug users here receive treatment, authorities have little chance of wiping out the city's two dozen major drug markets.
They also say that the Hanover market situation is complicated by the fact that some of the dealers are neighborhood residents. It is much easier for police to handle outsiders working on street corners than those working from behind closed doors.
Hanover Place, located near North Capitol Street and New York Avenue NW, is a trash-strewn dead-end block where half of the two-story, brick row houses have windows that are boarded up and scrawled with graffiti. Every day, drug customers with Maryland, Virginia and D.C. license tags drive into the little street to buy $60 packets of cocaine. It is one of the city's most violent streets, where disputes are resolved with guns and knives and where four people have been slain so far this year, according to police.
In late June, 1st District police, who have jurisdiction over Hanover Place, set up a 24-hour-a-day blockade of the street and questioned everyone entering it.
For two weeks, the bustling cocaine market with its hundreds of customers and dozens of dealers was transformed by "Operation Beat It" into a ghost town. Children suddenly were allowed to play in the empty streets and adults could sit on their front stoops, taking advantage of the calm.
The operation, named for Michael Jackson's hit song, netted 222 arrests that resulted in 287 charges, according to police. Thirty-five of the arrests were for narcotic-related offenses, four were for weapons possession and the rest were for disorderly conduct and traffic violations, police say.
Police say they confiscated illegal drugs worth $23,750, along with $1,257.79 in cash, three handguns and one knife.
Baken, her husband and her neighbors said at the time they were pleased with the operation. But now that the blockade is gone and the drug market is booming again, they are questioning the operation's effectiveness.
"We are mostly discouraged about Hanover," said Baken. "When the police occupied the area like an army, it was our only respite. Now we think the drug dealers will win."
Inspector Kris Coligan, head of the police department's morals division, said a permanent presence of uniformed police officers on Hanover or anywhere else in the city is impossible.
"We can't camp there," he said. "It takes an enormous amount of resources to camp out. We have to weigh that against the other criminal activities in the community. That market will come back until people [drug users] get treatment."
Coligan added, "In those street market areas, people looking for cocaine know where to get it. It is hard to eradicate those known drug areas. People from Virginia, Maryland and D.C., when they go to Hanover, they will find the drugs. It is also an area that drug dealers have identified as a place they want to deal out of. We will not say that Hanover Place will ever be completely clear [of drugs]. But we will do everything we can to disrupt it. The only way to control Hanover is to camp there."
The problem of dealing with the various cocaine, heroin, PCP and marijuana markets scattered throughout the city is a difficult and frustrating one, police say. When they move into an area with an operation such as "Beat It," they only push the market into new areas.
The dealers from Hanover Place, some of whom were arrested but not held in jail pending trial, simply moved north of Hanover to First and Florida NW and west to First and O streets NW. While police stood guard over desolate Hanover Place, suburban drivers cruised the area until they found their connections.
Residents of the new drug-market blocks complained, and police pushed the dealers farther on. According to police offcials, the Hanover dealers eventually ended up in a neighboring police district, setting up shop at established drug markets at Seventh and T streets NW and at 11th and O streets NW.
Three months after police cleared Hanover of drug traffic, it started to return. "We pushed them out to somebody else's district and they just pushed them right back to us. The big crowd is definitely back," said a police official who preferred not to be identified.
Deputy Chief Isaac Fulwood, who commands the 1st District, calls Hanover Place his district's "number one problem due to the volume of people, the volume of traffic and the violence that goes with the sale of drugs."
Fulwood said some of his officers are still active on Hanover, but they are now in plain clothes.
"When we go into an area and do it a 'Beat It,' our object is to give the community the sense that we care, and they can see that visually," he said.
"The second objective is to develop intelligence . . . to get to the people who are buying it and distributing it.
"We didn't just pull out of Hanover. We went to observation posts. We are now serving warrants based on that information. In the long run, one warrant can have more impact than 20 street arrests. It is more effective than camping out."
For Baken and her family, the long run is too far off. They have put their house up for sale and have purchased another house on Capitol Hill.
"We have done everything we can here," she said. "We worked with the police. Timmy [her husband] worked as an advisory neighborhood commissioner for two years. We met with our councilman and with [City Council Chairman David Clarke]. Our problem is that there is never a vacation from the drug traffic. It is always there and now it is in our front yard."
Fulwood said he cannot promise Baken or anyone else that the problem will ever be eliminated.
"If the quality of life has deteriorated so much that [Baken] can no longer deal with it, I can identify with that," he said. "They don't deserve the scum of the earth hanging around the neighborhood. I take it personally [that someone is moving], as if I hadn't done everything I can. When people have to move, that is a damn shame."