The city's black officers met with their presumptive new boss last night, firing tough questions about racial bias on the police force, judicial caprice, witness protection, and his controversial stop-and-frisk policy.
And Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter gave some surprisingly frank answers.
"Look," he said, standing before an intense crowd at the Philadelphia Guardian Civic League, the local chapter of the National Black Police Association, in North Philadelphia. "People are dying in our city every day."
Nutter, the overwhelming favorite to win election in November, cited the shootings this week of a police officer at a traffic stop and a toddler on a playground, saying the events "are increasingly telling the story of the city."
With the city's homicide tally already topping 300 this year, the violence is intolerable, he said, and he roughly outlined his plan to reduce crime.
He assured police that they were not solely responsible for dealing with the rising homicide rate.
"Hundreds of people come back from prison every day into this city, and they're not going to Gladwyne."
But police can do more to earn the public's trust so that witnesses will testify against suspects.
"People are fearful, and it's moving towards hopelessness," he said. "I refuse to accept that."
Joking that he might face "five to 10" for saying so, he announced he would hold municipal judges accountable by meeting with them and gathering statistics on how they rule on cases out of concern that the courts may be part of the cycle that returns recidivist criminals to the streets.
Judges, he said, "are on the payroll. The city government pays for it, we're going to have a say in it."
In stop-and-frisk cases, he said, "if judges start throwing cases out, we'll be having a big fight."
In response to an officer who said she was worried about civil lawsuits, Nutter said the policy was legal and necessary and would be effective, as long as officers got proper training and supervision.
"I have complete confidence in you. I'm putting my political career on the line. I think we can do it. We need to do it right," Nutter said.
"I want to change people's behavior. What I want is for people to stop carrying weapons. It's all about trust."
Greater numbers and smarter deployment are necessary, and police districts might need to be redrawn, he said.
"It's not possible, given the demographic changes, that we don't use data and do some analysis. If you keep doing the same stuff over and over and over again and get the same result, that's the definition of insanity."
Acknowledging complaints about poor communications equipment, Nutter said that he expected those and other improvements to cost $20 million to $30 million and that he would seek state and federal aid.
He was handed a thick report that alleged racist practices within the police force and contained recommendations for addressing the problem that the league said were compiled several years ago.
"I'm not going to tolerate discrimination . . . in any department within city government," Nutter said.
Nutter made a point of saying he had not appointed any of those serving in major positions in the city government. He stopped short of saying that he planned to replace Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson, but noted: "Last year was last year. When you come to training camp next year, you're going to have to fight for your job."
An officer called out, "It's going to be a black and white issue."
"It's a black and white world," Nutter said.