Mayor Street said yesterday that what Philadelphia needs is not 200 to 500 more police officers, but more spending on mental health and education, housing and nutrition.
Street, addressing his Task Force on Homelessness, said that while the number of homicides has spiked in the last few years, the overall trend in major crimes has declined during his years in office.
If the city hires 500 officers over the next four years, as Mayor-elect Michael Nutter has pledged, Street contends the city will have to build a new jail.
Incarcerating an inmate costs the city $29,000 per year, he said.
Instead of pouring money into the criminal-justice system, Street argued that the money might better be spent helping educate children and providing services to needy families.
"I think it would be a tragedy for us to invest a huge, huge amount of money in policing and not be able to provide the quality of services people need," he said.
A substantial percentage of inmates in the city prison system have serious mental-health problems as do homeless people struggling to survive, Street said.
"When you cut mental-health spending and don't provide the kind of services that people need, you have the kind of incidents you had out in Omaha, Neb., the kind of problems you had at Virginia Tech, because people aren't being serviced," Street said.
The outgoing mayor laid much of the blame for spending reductions at the feet of President Bush, who has earmarked billions of dollars to "a war that we never needed and we probably shouldn't have ever been in."
Since 2005, when the mayor announced a 10-year plan to end homelessness, the homeless population has increased.
Last summer the estimated number of homeless people living on Center City streets reached a 10-year high.
But Dainette Mintz, director of the Office of Supportive Housing, recounted a series of policy moves and increased city spending at the same time federal funding has decreased.
She noted that this month two new drug-treatment programs will open with plans to serve 34 chronically homeless people for up to 12 months.