For years, the streets winding through the Kenilworth-Parkside apartment complex in far Northeast Washington where Kimi Gray lives were overrun by aggressive drug dealers. Now the streets are clear and residents are going forward with plans to renovate their 464-unit complex.

Gray, chairwoman of the Kenilworth-Parkside board, says the District's drug-fighting program, Operation Clean Sweep, "gave us back our community."

But in some neighborhoods, feelings of helplessness and fear persist. Clean Sweep, a program designed to pulverize the District's highly visible street-level drug trade, arrived in those areas with fanfare and then moved on. Now the drug dealers have returned.

Residents of Potomac Gardens in Southeast Washington, another city-run public-housing project, said Clean Sweep did not go far enough. Occasional raids on the interior courtyard area known as the Boardwalk were not sufficient to deter the throngs of young men who openly sell drugs all day and most of the night, they said.

"It slows it down for a day," said one resident who was afraid to have her name used because she says some of her neighbors are drug dealers. "If they could come here five or six days a week, it would make a big difference."

Clean Sweep is now being revamped by city officials who say it has become too costly. It is considered highly successful by police officials who are quick to tout its statistics: In 17 months' time, police made 29,519 arrests, seized $12,375,000 in drugs and $1,283,000 in cash and confiscated 809 firearms and 394 vehicles.

But others question its impact, pointing to the increase in violence in some neighborhoods, the alarming number of drug-related homicides, the clogged court dockets and too few jail sentences. Some detectives contend that the overtime money used to fuel the program could have been better used for homicide investigations.

Even the program's strongest advocates see it only as a partial solution to the city's drug epidemic. For as much as it has accomplished, there are still a proliferation of open-air markets. And now the program, which has cost about $6 million, has run out of money because Mayor Marion Barry is unwilling to continue to spend that much in police overtime.

"Clean Sweep has had qualified success," said Assistant Police Chief Isaac Fulwood. "We've succeeded in eliminating street dealers in some areas, even if they have relocated."

As Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. and other top police officials try to retool Clean Sweep without the overtime costs, they face an ever-worsening problem. The 227 slayings committed in the District last year were the highest number recorded since 1975. About 60 percent of the killings were linked to the city's drug trade, which has made investigating slayings much more difficult, police said. An unprecedented number of killings last year -- nearly 100 -- were unsolved by the year's end, and most of those were drug-related.

Initially, Clean Sweep provided some relief. "I don't know anything else we could have done," Turner said in frustration last week. "If I had the answer to solve the drug problem in this city, I would be a millionaire. Because I would market it."The Program

Operation Clean Sweep was born one hot August afternoon in 1986 when several high-ranking police officals gathered in Barry's office to try again to solve the city's number one problem. Assistant Chief Fulwood suddenly sprang from his chair and declared: "Give me 200 people and we will go out and attack the open air drug markets. We will attempt to disrupt and close them down so the dealers will say the police are every damn where."

From the beginning, Clean Sweep was different from the police department's previous antidrug programs.

The department targeted 59 known drug markets in neighborhoods throughout the city, and brought in several large police trailers that were essentially small police stations. Between 100 to 200 officers were available to conduct roadblocks, observe the open-air markets and raid apartments. Other Clean Sweep tactics included the seizure of cars and reverse buys where undercover officers sold drugs to dealers.

The operation was quickly endorsed by neighborhood residents. But it also was immediately challenged -- albeit unsuccessfully -- by lawyers who questioned the new tactics.

Critics of the operation claimed it was nothing more than a short-term political ploy by Barry, who was facing a November election.

Six months later, in April of last year, the police department unexpectedly halted Clean Sweep, when some city officials criticized mounting overtime costs. A storm of community protest followed.

Barry publicly chastised City Administrator Thomas M. Downs and Turner as "brain dead" for even suggesting the police department reduce overtime costs by cutting Clean Sweep. One day later the program was restored.

At a news conference marking the operation's one-year anniversary, police displayed bundles of $100 bills, glass-covered cases of firearms and a row of confiscated cars.

"The costs are worth it," Barry declared to a crowd of parents and children from Paradise Manor and Mayfair Mansions, two housing projects in the Northeast known for brazen cocaine and crack markets. "This mayor and this police department's tired of it {drug trafficking} and we're not going to take it anymore."

Several other cities have tried programs similar to Operation Clean Sweep. While statistics reflect some victories in the battle against drug trafficking, the street scenes tell a different story. Some experts believe that even with programs like Operation Clean Sweep the drug war cannot be won, and compare the problem to alcohol enforcement during Prohibition.

"In terms of cutting down on drug trafficking, there is not much the police can do," said James J. Frye, a former New York City police officer and now chairman of American University's Justice, Law and Society Department. "In D.C., many people are escaping reality and you can't do away with the drug problem until you change the reality." Courts and Jail

The District's courts and corrections system also have been overwhelmed by the size of the problem. Prosecutors have privately complained about the increased work load created by Clean Sweep, and corrections officials say that Clean Sweep has contributed to jail crowding.

Clean Sweep "was a back-breaking proposition," said Jay Carver, director of the city's pretrial services agency. "We have an average of 68 new cases a day. During the height of Clean Sweep, we averaged 100 a day and sometimes went as high as 160."

As of last week, there have been 29,519 Clean Sweep arrests, the majority for distribution and possession of drugs. According to police, 13,135 of those cases have been disposed of in court. More than 9,000 of the 13,135 cases were cleared after fines were paid or because of insufficient evidence. Of those, the number of cases ending with an adjudication of guilty was 3,643. There are still 16,384 cases pending.

Fulwood said that of the total number of arrests, there were 2,082 repeat offenders and some had been arrested as many as nine times.

Despite Clean Sweep's stated objective of getting drug dealers off the streets, police and court officials had no figures on how many people went to jail.

During Clean Sweep's operation, the city prisons have been so crowded that Barry declared a prison emergency in July and began releasing hundreds of prisoners early from Lorton Reformatory, the D.C. Jail and halfway houses. Most of those inmates had been convicted on drug possession, although it is unclear how many are related to Clean Sweep itself.

"We realize that the larger number of arrests generated by Clean Sweep has resulted in strains on the criminal justice system," said Clendon Lee, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova. "But as a policy matter we've made it clear that we'll work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to process all arrests their enforcement efforts generate." Police

Along with transforming the workings of the criminal justice system, Clean Sweep profoundly altered the life styles of police officers. They became much more visible on city streets, working long hours to keep drug dealers on the run. Their efforts were fueled by the excitement of the work and, for many, the opportunity to reap tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay.

For 7th District Officer George Taylor, it has been an exhausting year of 16-hour workdays stretching from routine patrol to Clean Sweep overtime. In between came endless court appearances and snatches of sleep.

But Taylor says he didn't mind the long hours because he felt it had its rewards in drug-free streets, grateful neighbors and approving officials. He also saw his $32,000 a year salary double with overtime pay.

"I volunteered a whole lot," said Taylor, 30, who is single. "It's worth it. I would see results, a lot of areas with drug trafficking were eliminated or removed."

The drug crackdown operated throughout the city, but nowhere were the effects felt more than the 7th Police District in far Southeast Washington, where drug-related shootings and stabbings occur daily.

"Some of the guys made big dollars," said David Israel, the chief union shop steward at the 7th District. "For an officer with 15 to 16 years on the force, he could work 40 hours of Clean Sweep overtime a week and make $600 to $700 a week."

Israel and dozens of other officers who were interviewed argued, however, that they earned every cent. "We kept the streets clean and the junkies jumping," said Israel, who worked Clean Sweep for the first five months.

But the long hours took their toll on many officers, some of whom slept only 10 hours over two or three days. The police department union filed a complaint last fall on behalf of officers at the 6th District station, where they were being forced to work Clean Sweep overtime because the district was shorthanded, according to Gary Hankins, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee.

"A guy would work the midnight shift, do Clean Sweep and then do court time," said Hankins. "He would come in to process someone that he had arrested on Clean Sweep and he would check his gun in. When he finished the paperwork, he would be so tired that he would stumble back onto the street without his weapon."

Fulwood, who oversaw the operation, said after six months he ordered officers to work only three overtime shifts in a two-week period. But several of the officers interviewed said that they worked more than the limit.

"I don't think a new program without overtime will work as well because the motivation won't be there," said the officer. "The bottom line is the money."

While the officers did get satisfaction from visible results in some neighborhoods, many of them are frustrated about the magnitude of the drug problem. Even though they picked up thousands of street dealers, the Clean Sweep officers complain about the difficulty of making a dent into the business and nabbing the big-time dealers.

Police officials said that they were simultaneously conducting investigations into high-level drug networks. However, Capt. William White III, a police spokesman, could cite no specific arrests of major drug dealers.

"We didn't go far enough," said a 6th District officer who mostly served search warrants and searched for "stash houses" on his Clean Sweep duty.

"It's like trying to mop the floor when the faucet is still running," the officer said. "We need to stop the faucet and get to the source." Residents

The thought of losing any police presence has residents once again phoning the mayor and scrambling to gather signatures.

James Berry, president of the Bates Area Civic Association near downtown Washington, said the officers in the operation did what individual community members could not do.

"Clean Sweep is in some ways a vicarious means by which the community can show its opposition to that behavior," he said. "While people cannot confront drug dealers directly, they do strongly support Clean Sweep. The operation can not resolve the problem of drug dealing in D.C. but it gives an emotional uplift for those who feel overwhelmed and imtimidated."

Sam Foster, director of the Concerned Citizens on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Congress Heights in Southeast Washington, said the program benefited the young people there.

"Clean Sweep put the fear in them," he said. "Those kids -- 14, 15, 16 years old -- went to court for the first time because of Clean Sweep. They found out the police and the courts aren't playing. It made a big difference."

Gray, of Kenilworth-Parkside, said, "Clean Sweep deserves more credit. They have done exceptionally well. We could not have survived without them."

Many of those interviewed were apprehensive about any change in the police department's operation.

Virginia Morris, chairwoman of the 6th Police District Citizens Advisory Council, which includes far Northeast and part of Southeast Washington, said, "They cannot do the same job without using overtime. They will simply be pulling officers away from other duties to work on Clean Sweep.

"Prince George's County is adding new muscle to their police department and that means they will be pushing the dealers back across the line into our neighborhoods," she said. "This is not the time to appear weak." What Next?

In early January, police district and division heads gathered for two days to thrash out a new program that would keep some parts of Clean Sweep intact. Although the police department has not made public details of any new program, several officials who attended the planning sessions were willing to talk about the agreement if they were not identified by name.

The first proposal to emerge -- that Operation Clean Sweep continue on an overtime basis -- was immediately rejected by the mayor, participants said. Suggestions to eliminate two key programs as a way to get additional personnel to staff the new program were discarded in favor of drawing officers from administrative positions. Each district would lend 10 officers to the new 101-member operation for an indefinite period of time, with smaller divisions assigning fewer officers.

The proposal calls for officers to work in uniform and in locations where their visibility is expected to please the residents and deter crime. They are expected to make fewer arrests and thus spend less time in court.

Police officials have asked that other city agencies such as housing, sanitation and education be involved in the project in auxiliary roles, such as alerting police to possible drug activities. The most recent proposal, named Clean Sweep II, went to the mayor 10 days ago, the participants said. It is unclear when the mayor will take action on it.

Although the mayor would not talk about any new program, he said through a spokesman recently that "Operation Clean Sweep has not been halted. The mayor, as well as the police department, is continuously examining other ways to combat the drug war. As drug dealers have become more sophisticated, the police have to become more sophisticated."

The architect of the original Clean Sweep operation, Assistant Chief Fulwood, pondered the changes in his program.

"I'm very uneasy about not having overtime. I told the mayor that," said Fulwood. "It doesn't give us the option of having as many people. I'm concerned about robbing Peter to pay Paul."