Mayor Nutter yesterday named as recreation commissioner a 20-year police veteran who runs the Police Athletic League, saying the appointment would better link the city and its police force with a generation of young residents in need of a safe place to have fun.

In appointing Lt. Susan Slawson, 46, Nutter said he hoped her ties to the police, nonprofits and private sector would "work out very well for the kids of Philadelphia."

"This partnership - between her background and knowledge and experience, her relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department and the Police Athletic League, I think is a unique opportunity for us to move this department and this city forward," Nutter said yesterday.

Slawson was commander of the Public Affairs Unit under Commissioner John F. Timoney and then was appointed as head of the nonprofit PAL, where she supervises 35 police officers, one sergeant and 17 civilians, as well as a $2.3 million budget.

Since she took over PAL, the number of centers has increased from 24 to 27 and the number of children served from 24,000 to 27,000, she said. She took it upon herself to bring girls into the programs, and instituted after-school homework programs and increased computer lab space.

Most important, Nutter said, the PAL centers, staffed by police officers, have been free from the kind of violence that has periodically marred city recreation centers.

"That's my goal, to make these rec centers a safer, better place," Slawson said.

Her responsibilities will grow geometrically. The Recreation Department has 163 facilities, a $39 million budget and 517 employees.

"The mayor said, 'Commissioner Slawson.' That is mind-blowing," said a wide-eyed Slawson, flashing a million-dollar smile. "I'm excited," Slawson said, "because, you know what? I really think I can make a difference."

Nutter said he hoped to see her flex her relationships with the private sector - she serves a 100-member board at PAL and built a $9 million center paid for by board member H. Chase Lenfest. Nutter pointed out that a PAL fund-raising event last week raised more than $1 million.

The appointment is also a capstone to an impressive personal journey. A mother at 15, Slawson raised her daughter, Patricia, with the help of her parents and graduated from Geneva College. She is an ordained minister at West Philadelphia's Christ Community Church of Philadelphia.

She now is married to Michael Slawson and they have a 10-year-old son, Michael.

Slawson, who will start her assignment in two weeks, will be paid from $120,000 to $130,000, the mayor said. She would retain her rank should she return to the police.

Nutter went out of his way to praise acting Recreation Commissioner William Carapucci, a veteran civil servant leaned on by many in city government for his knowledge of the department.

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.