City of Newburgh — This is what Newburgh is like without crack.

City of Newburgh — This is what Newburgh is like without crack.

Laressa Knight and her friend, Yahaira Fernandez, are walking down Lander Street on their way to the city pool, pushing a pair of strollers and herding two boys before them.

"There are times, I would never — never — walk through here," said Fernandez, 24.

Two weeks ago the women had rounded a corner here, and a man staggered toward them. His face was running with blood. He carried a knife. The women turned on their heels.

"You remember that?" said Fernandez.

Knight nodded.

"Drugs. Ninety percent of the violence and drama out here is about drugs and territory," said Knight, 23. It has been like that for a generation.

But on Wednesday of last week, the women were walking in the sun past empty street corners.

The drug-dealing crews that have been fixtures here for 21 summers, with their fighting and hollering and hustling and joking, were gone.

"The cops are really strapping down. It is," said Knight, "a good thing."

WHAT THEY WERE SEEING was the aftermath of a roundup of drug dealers begun two weeks ago.

Other drug sweeps in the city have yielded more guns, or drugs or money. But the number of street-level dealers picked up in this July case may be the largester here yet. At last count 67 Newburgh dealers are in custody, facing felony indictments.

With few exceptions, all are young black men. All had been secretly videotaped in previous months making crack sales. Almost all come from this square-mile pocket of poverty just north of Broadway in Newburgh's east end: the same cramped section of Newburgh where crack first appeared around 1986.

This was not a police takedown of a big drug-dealing street gang, and none of the men now facing felony drug charges could be considered a major dealer or kingpin. It was, detectives say, a methodical mowing down of dozens and dozens of small, but visible, crews. Lunch-pail, working-class, ham-and-eggers.

"I have a cousin up from North Carolina, she grew up in Newburgh," said Knight. "And she's, like, 'What's going on? Where's all the people on the street?'"

IN A CITY of fewer than 30,000 people, the sheer number of arrests in just this one quarter is staggering. Everyone here knows someone — a brother, a neighbor's kid, a son — who was caught.

And the list of men arrested is expected to grow.

"The violence is down, all that good stuff," said Ronnie Stackhouse, 51. He and his wife and a friend sat outside as Fernandez and Knight strolled by the south end of Lander. "Over here, it used to be just a calamity. The gangs on this side (of the city) are real flamboyant. Wear their colors, all that."

On this sunny Wednesday, Knight and Fernandez, too young to remember a Newburgh without crack cocaine, took advantage of the lull.

Nobody — not Ronnie Stackhouse, not Laressa Knight and not the police — believes it will last.

LT. SANTO CENTAMORE is one of the few local detectives who was a cop before crack arrived and who still remains.

He can recall the early days of crack, when Jamaican drug posses — straight from the island nation or transplanted from New York City — first began peddling the smokable, rock-like cocaine derivative.

He remembers Granville "Shine" Dehaney, the Jamaican who, after his arrest and imprisonment, claimed to have introduced crack to Newburgh. Violence, particularly gun violence, between the new gangs and Newburgh's established neighborhood crews, followed. So did petty crime to support users' habits. A parade of buyers from outside Newburgh streamed in daily.

"In the beginning there were always shootings," said Centamore. "After a little while, a couple of years, it, as you say, normalized."

Centamore also oversaw the recent investigation that netted the 67 — and counting — dealers.

Details of the ongoing case go far in showing how deeply crack cocaine is entrenched in Newburgh, in its economy and in its problems.

"We only bought from dealers who would sell to us," said Centamore, a 36-year veteran of Newburgh police.

The cop's undercover buyer approached corners, bought drugs with the hidden video camera rolling, and left.

Later, police identified the dealers and began drawing up arrest warrants.

During the case, officers saw, firsthand, the booming crack economy.

Sometimes, the police buyer stopped his car on a "hot" corner, only to have "three or four dealers running to the car to make the sale."

Police saw crews of four or five at corners.

"At one point during the day one guy would sell," said Centamore. Hours later, it was another crew member's turn. "So everybody makes money. They take turns. Shifts."

WHEN IT CAME TIME to make the arrests, officers showed up at one Lander Street apartment to find their target not home. But two of the people on the stoop were holding crack, and were arrested. They're not counted among the 67 in the case.

A small crowd formed to watch the arrests. Detectives looked at the faces. Checked their lists of wanted men. A few more arrests were made from among the onlookers.

"It really is a small city," said Centamore.

To him, the phenomenon comes down to demand. Demand for crack creates dealers.

After all the years chasing crack, the veteran detective is at loss.

"We've hammered and hammered and hammered. We've done the buyer-beware, and buyer-deterrent programs, all that stuff. I don't know how you alleviate that demand," he said. "The best we can do is keep enforcement up. So the good people can walk the streets. So people can feel safe.

"This," he said, "isn't over."

ANTHONY CHAVIS OWNS an apartment building on Liberty Street, just two blocks from Newburgh's crack epicenter.

He grew up here, and began working at the Wal-Mart just outside the city. He saved.

At 37, he's a landlord and a mentor to other young black Newburghers at the nearby Hoops Express.

Across the street from his house is a wall of murals, shadowy scenes of crack's devastating effects painted onto the front of Restorative Management, a drug treatment facility.

"It used to be trash all over the street. You couldn't walk down the street without seeing people on drugs. Drug paraphernalia all over the street," said Chavis of crack's early years here. "Now, you can walk down the street."

Slowly, especially since 2003 or so, he sees crack receding. Cleaner streets, for one, he says. Higher rents.

He has also seen the impact of the recent arrests. Some of the clients at his block's busy barbershop were arrested.

He also knows arrests mean the loss of money that crack brings to city families. Cleaner streets aside, there is still much poverty and desperation here, he said.

"There are some people, there's no telling where they'd be without it (that money)," he said.

But if Chavis sees the recent sweep as one step in part of a slow march from crack's shadow, others here are less optimistic.

Terry Moore, 30, sits on the stoop of his Lander Street apartment building and stares out at the street.

Several brick tenements nearby are abandoned, the sidewalk is buckled in places.

He says he does not remember a Newburgh without crack.

"They can take 70 guys off the street, and 70 more will step up," he said, lighting a cigarette. "I haven't noticed any change at all."