Dallas_City_HallFive years ago, when the bosses downtown were putting together the first of their spending cuts budgets, we were assured that basic city services like fire and police protection would not be affected. What’s the polite way to categorize that kind of claim? I believe it’s called a misstatement.

Because, of course, the budget cuts did affect fire and police services. Just ask the Oak Cliff family whose house burned down because 911 was busy. Or the woman who was murdered because it took the cops two days to answer her 911 call.

Yesterday, the city finally admitted that the system isn’t working very well. Eric Nicholson at the Observer has a spot-on analysis of the news conference, noting that city officials didn’t want to dwell on the problems, but on the “great strides” it has made in fixing 911 since Deana Cook was murdered. Because, of course, there were great strides to be made.

How badly did the budget cuts wreck 911? The system was understaffed by one-third, and that was compounded by the brilliant style of management we’ve come to expect from City Hall. It was especially short-staffed on weekends, when 911 handles the most calls. And, because things will get worse before they get better, the system is not set up to handle cell phones, which account for three-quarters of the calls it receives.

The only thing that gives me any cause for optimism is that, because there has been so much negative publicity about this, the city will be forced to continue to fix 911. It’s one thing for houses to burn down or people to die, but getting embarrassed nationally? We can’t have that in Dallas, can we? It wouldn’t be good for bidness.