- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Charles Manso says what he likes best about Paradise at Parkside is the quiet.
The 54-year-old Ghanaian immigrant has been a fixture at the low-income apartment complex in Northeast since 1974, selling everything from hot dogs and sodas to toiletries and diapers from a white ice-cream truck strategically parked at the complex's busiest walkway.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he remembers, it wasn't so quiet.
A decade ago, Paradise epitomized the decline of the urban neighborhood, registering a homicide a month as armed gangs toting automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns vied for control over one of the largest open-air drug markets on the East Coast.
"That time, when they reach for their money, you see a gun," Mr. Manso said, opening his coat and gesturing to where a gun might be tucked into a person's pants. "You didn't know which one they were going to give you."
But after a $20 million restoration and a decade of highly publicized efforts to drive out the gangs through intensified police patrols and social programs offering job skills and drug counseling, Paradise now faces the daily challenge of maintaining its newfound stability.
Jeffrey McLaughlin had a big part in that turnaround.
Outside, in his sweat suit, sneakers and Cleveland Indians baseball cap, the only thing that distinguishes him from the other residents is the Metropolitan Police Department badge that hangs around his neck.
Officer McLaughlin is one of 20 officers who live at Paradise and one of a dozen who get a break on their rent to maintain a presence in the community during their off-duty hours.
A teacher with the department's youth-education programs, he says the officers mostly give advice to children or help senior citizens to the grocery store to pick up prescriptions.
"Me living here is good for me," he said. "The kids I teach are here. It keeps me close to the community."
But the commitment isn't just social.
During one incident last year, Officer McLaughlin seized $2,500 of cocaine after interrupting a sale.
"I spent five years in vice," he said. "I'm not dumb to the elements."
In a room whose location is unknown to most residents, a bank of television monitors observes 98 percent of the property's open spaces. Two video recorders keep a record of who comes and who goes. Soon, the whole system will be digitized.
About a dozen photographs of suspicious persons are taped to the unit for special observation.
Ernestine King, the property manager, said she made the deal with Officer McLaughlin shortly after she arrived in 1996, when she heard she had a police officer living at Paradise. "I told him, 'I've got a problem,'" Mrs. King said.
Police commitment to a neighborhood "koban," modeled after a Japanese community-policing program, was waning, and the three uniformed officers that had served full time at Paradise were reassigned. Too many young men were just hanging around.
After Officer McLaughlin moved in, other officers followed for a $200 discount on rent.
"The police are all the time here," Mr. Manso said. "They live here, so you never know when one is going to come around the corner."
There hasn't been a homicide in Paradise since 1996.
Officer McLaughlin produces a copy of the quarterly police report for Paradise's Patrol Service Area. Crimes committed at the complex are highlighted in yellow.
There are a handful of domestic-disturbance complaints, a report of a stolen car which turns out to be a misunderstanding based on a vigorous new towing policy and one case of a resident who pulled a gun when a maintenance worker entered his apartment. "He's already gone," Mrs. King said.
The complex's management firm, CT Management, has broad discretion in evicting troublesome tenants and performs criminal-background checks on prospective residents, Mrs. King said.
All but one of the complex's 653 units are leased or have commitments from tenants.
The median income is about $17,000 a year, and various government grants cover much of the cost of a free day care center that operates within the complex. A recreation center provides no-charge groceries to seniors once a month, and a computer lab offers Internet access on nine computers.
The program has been so successful that organizers plan to duplicate it at Carver Terrace in Northeast, where renovation of more than 400 apartments is currently under way.
"This is heaven to me," said Brenda Wood, a 26-year resident. "You couldn't even walk out the door. It really has changed a lot."

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