Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson's earnest plea for 10,000 civilian men to help patrol some of the baddest streets in Philadelphia is more pitiful than powerful. It represents the exact attribute the city's next mayor should not seek in replacing Johnson, who is expected to retire next year - defeatism.

Johnson isn't wrong to keep pressing his absolutely correct point: that police work alone won't quell the violence that has the city on pace to surpass last year's total of 406 murders. But when he makes it his business to help fashion programs that might actually put more civilians in harm's way, one has to wonder where his mind is.

Has he given up on designing effective policing strategies? If so, then maybe his retirement can't come soon enough.

Johnson is optimistic that 10,000 men will come out for patrol duty when the program kicks off on Oct. 21. More than a thousand have signed up so far. But it's a big question mark as to how many will meet the commitment to walk the streets for 90 days.

And if just one volunteer in this Neighborhood Watch program on steroids becomes a victim of violence, it will reverse any gains made in raising the sense of security in communities where residents fear leaving their homes.

Putting these men on the street is also likely to have the same impact that putting more police on the street has had in the past, when done on only a temporary basis - simply chasing criminals to other parts of town until the coast is clear for them to return.

Johnson has always been a man of great integrity, but one wonders if he's just trotting out ideas in an attempt to go out with a bang.

Especially when this one comes on the heels of his ballyhooed announcement that the city would soon get help from state police in patrolling city streets. Only later was it learned that the grand sum of five troopers were being assigned to this duty.

Others - including the Mothers in Charge and Men United for a Better Philadelphia organizations - have worked hard to get residents of neighborhoods beset by crime to play a more active role in reducing violence.

Such groups have long been walking the streets and urging residents to talk to police when they witness a crime.

It's important that Johnson continue to work with such community organizations. But Philadelphians would be more heartened if he announced an effective policing strategy using his officers - not civilians.

The hardest work of men and women not in uniform must occur in their homes, in their children's schools, in their places of worship. There, attitudes must be molded that shun violence, drug abuse and other crimes. Johnson has said that, too. And the commissioner should keep saying it.

But so long as he is chief, he should let others steer that valuable work and dedicate his last days as top cop to seeing that the police hold up their end in keeping Philadelphia safe.