I had the misfortune onecent Friday afternoon of having to call Police Emergency 911. It was unfortunate in two respects. First, my house was being broken into while I was home; second, it took 911 a disturbingly long time to answer my call.

I dialed 911 twice, for the burglers, having run away the first time I came to the door, returned for a second try about 15 minutes later. In the first instance, I tried reaching 911 three times; only after six rings did someone finally answer. The operator's native language was Spanish, and we had difficulty communicating. Certainly it is absolutely necessary in this city to have Spanish-speaking 911 operators; unfortunately, the last time I spoke Spanish was in high school 19 years ago. But because the burglers already had fled, I was calm enough to give a slow description. I wondered what would have happened if I had panicked.

I soon found out when I again heard the smashing noise against my front-door window pane. I immediately dialed 911 only to hear the unanswered ring. Needless to say, my heart was beginning to protrude through my teeth. When I heard the glass break and fall to the floor, I realized things had qualitatively escalated. So much for Police Emergency.

I grabbed another telephone to use as a weapon -- the heavy, pre-divestiture type -- and decided to meet the intruders at the door. Luckily for everyone, the sound of my bellowing as I raced downstairs scared them away. I redialed 911, and eventually my call was answered. The police appeared shortly thereafter, and, as a result of their vigilance, two suspects were arrested and a juvenile trial is pending.

My willingness to confront the burglers was due in part to my physical size: 6-foot-5 and, on a low-calorie day, about 210 pounds. Moreover, I used to reside in Beirut, so I have become desensitized to violence.

But what about the little old lady living down the street? How would she have responded to the breaking of the glass and an unanswered 911 call? Rather than chasing after a mired cable-television contract, wouldn't the District be better served by a more effective police emergency number?