"What we're setting out to do is bring the kids closer to us, let them see we're somebody to run to, instead of away from," said Officer Michael Ferguson, one of those pictured on the baseball-style cards.
Officers will hand out the cards while on patrol, during school visits and at community events, hoping to dissolve the us-versus-them attitude that often separates the police from the city's youth.
The cards have the look and feel of high-quality sports trading cards. They're embellished with gold, blue and white stripes - the departmental colors - and stamped with the police logo. Each bears a picture of an officer, information on his police background, current assignment and personal interests, along with safety tips and anti-drug messages.
K-9 Officer John Rickey, for instance, is shown with his dog, Brutus, whose off-duty activities are described as playing ball and eating pizza. Highway Patrol Officer Jim Snell collects baseball cards. The card of Officer Diane Donahue, an avid baseball fan, notes that she's been traded three times during her career - between the 35th, Seventh and Eighth Police Districts.
"It's introducing us to the public on more than a group basis - it's an individual basis," Donahue said. "It's a start, and I hope it takes off."
Trading cards have become a widely used police public-relations tool, employed by agencies from New York to California, all hoping to improve rapport with their communities' youth. The idea is to have children approach the officers and ask for a card as a way to start a conversation. The hope is that youngsters will come to see the officers as more than authority figures, as people who have lives beyond their work.
In Philadelphia, the cards stem from an effort by Police Spouses and Concerned Citizens Behind the Badge, an organization largely composed of officers' wives, whose work has been assisted and encouraged by the Police Department.
Nina Bushman, president of the group, said sponsors are being sought for the next set of 50 cards, which are produced by Choice Marketing Inc. A company or individual can sponsor an officer for $125, which provides 2,000 cards.
About 100 officers, spouses and children, along with top police commanders and the police-union leadership, gathered in Northeast Philadelphia yesterday as the first batch of cards was unveiled.
"I believe strongly in the trading-card program," Fraternal Order of Police President Michael Lutz told the children seated in front of him. ''These cards you're getting are the real heroes. The real heroes aren't on the movie screen. The real heroes are right here on the streets."
Commissioner Richard Neal said he viewed the cards as a way to encourage personal relationships between officers and children, and the youngsters who scampered through the auditorium yesterday were proof of that.
"It's nice to have," said 10-year-old Jenna Puglin, holding a handful of cards as she went from officer to officer with her sister Nicole, 8. "It has safety tips and a picture."
Officer John Buleza, who is pictured on one card standing next to his patrol car, said, "In my years of driving around the street, I noticed a lot of kids were afraid to wave, so I would initiate it. I'd wave, and their face would light up. Now, I have a card to give them."