- - Thursday, December 4, 2014

President Obama wants local police to wear body cameras. His idea is too moderate. We should think big and put body cameras on politicians, starting with the White House.

And before buying cameras for local police, Mr. Obama should get them for the 25,000 armed officials in more than 70 federal regulatory agencies. Those are non-military and non-law enforcement agencies, yet some have commando squads and SWAT teams; they conduct raids not to halt violence but to enforce their regulations.

Mr. Obama says police body cameras would address the “simmering distrust” between law enforcement and communities of color. That distrust is tiny compared to the gap between Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country.

Pew Research says 75 percent of us don’t trust government. Gallup pegs it at 81 percent. Rasmussen’s polling says 83 percent of us believe politicians do not keep their campaign promises.

Body cameras would let us monitor what happens in Congress’ back rooms (except for when they are so smoke-filled that it blocks the picture).

C-SPAN shows us speeches and we watch lawmakers mingle in private conversations on the floors of the House and Senate. Body cameras would capture those conversations and share them with us.

Each politician could have his own YouTube channel where the videos would be posted. Privacy is no problem since the National Security Agency probably has everything already. The president should not mind a body cam since basically would capture what he reads off his omni-present teleprompter.

Mitt Romney let filmmakers invade his privacy for the documentary, “Mitt.” Surely the most open and most transparent ever Obama team can outdo Mr. Romney.

The Obama Cam would answer lots of nagging questions:

* Did Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel jump before he was pushed out?
* Did Mr. Obama indeed encourage Al Sharpton to keep stirring things up in Ferguson?
* What did the White House tell that stream of IRS officials who visited there while they were harassing the Tea Party?
* What did Obama do the night of the Benghazi attack?

The First Lady Cam might catch her eating the very foods she is denying to kids in public schools.

A John Kerry Cam would reveal what the secretary of State really says to the Iranians as we hand over billions, yet they still pursue nuclear weapons.

It would not be a first if the political body cams captured political lies. Mr. Obama’s pledges that we could keep our doctors and keep our insurance plans were recorded on video dozens of times. So was his claim that Obamacare would save a typical family $2,500 a year. And so was George H.W. Bush’s “Read my lips; no new taxes” promise.

Besides, hidden cameras are a great American tradition. They were featured on “Candid Camera,” “60 Minutes” and the FBI’s Abscam corruption sting. Abscam convicted one senator, six congressman and multiple lesser elected officials. There is no guarantee that body cams would break that conviction record.

The need goes beyond elected officials, however. Increasingly, federal bureaucrats are involved in oppressive and intimidating behavior.

More than 70 non-military federal agencies now have their own armed agents, 25,000 strong. We expect armed agents with the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Border Patrol. But the Environmental Protection Agency? The Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, even the Social Security Administration and the National Institutes of Health? Also, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have their own armed agents. So do the Food and Drug Administration, Veterans Affairs, the Government Printing Office, the National Zoo and the Library of Congress. Some even have sniper teams.

These are not just guards. Agents go out on raids to enforce the orders of federal bureaucracies.

In 2013, the tiny town of Chicken, Alaska, found armed EPA agents and others swooping in to investigate supposed violations of the Clean Water Act. Tennessee’s Gibson Guitars was twice raided by dozens of armed agents from the Fish & Wildlife Service, who seized what they claimed to be illegal wood. Litigation continues over a 2009 raid of a Utah home by more than 80 armed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents to confiscate what they said were illegally possessed Indian artifacts.

In 2014, we witnessed a small army of BLM agents descend on Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to remove his cattle from federal property, as ordered by the courts. Mr. Bundy is a scofflaw, but the BLM’s mistake was to make themselves the enforcers, rather than have U.S. Marshals enforce the court order as would be normal.

Shouldn’t these federal bureaucratic armies be equipped with body cams? Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican, says he wants “to de-fund paramilitary units for any regulatory agency.” Says Mr. Stewart, “We are witnessing the criminalization of America, where any one of us may find our front doors broken down and a SWAT team in camouflage standing in our living rooms.”

Mr. Obama says he wants to address abuses and over-militarization of local police. But he is silent about the federal abuses.

It is proper for Washington to restrict or end the giveaways of military equipment to local police. Federal funding should focus on federal abuses, but would not be necessary if we halted the paramilitary units for bureaucracies. We should let state and local governments make their own decisions on body cams for their officers and provide their own funding.

The mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, a staunch Democrat, just vetoed a city ordinance requiring body cams for her city’s police. She says she supports them and even supports Mr. Obama’s offer of federal funds for them. But, says Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, she wants to wait on an in-depth study because there are too many unanswered questions about the use of the cameras.

Seattle has questions, too, such as whether the videos would be subject to open records laws.

Phone recordings of 9-11 calls are controversial because they make us voyeurs of human tragedy. Video recordings could greatly magnify that invasion into human suffering by the innocent.

Mr. Obama proposes $75 million in matching grants, footing half the bill to buy 50,000 body cams. America has almost 500,000 sworn local and state officers, so this covers only 1/10th of them.

The majority of jurisdictions already have dash-cams in patrol cars, according to Justice Department reports. Those communities are actively sorting out their policies on privacy issues, including how long video will be kept and who can have access. They also are addressing questions such as when cameras could be on or off, and situations when turning them on would be mandated.

It is best to let states and localities try things out and develop the best practices. Washington should address equipping federal officers. And it would cost a lot less than $75 million simply to put the body cams on our national politicians. Then audiences could decide if they were watching a comedy? Or a tragedy?

Ernest ​Istook is a former congressman from Oklahoma. ​Get Ernest’s free email newsletter. Signup at eepurl.com/JPojD.

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