Designated the “Red Light Robin Hood,” Stephen Ruth rose to fame in 2015 following his campaign to have Long Island red light cameras removed. Ruth became frustrated by the installation of more than 50 cameras in his area. These cameras automatically photograph the driver and license plate of any car that runs a red light; then the offender receives a ticket in the mail. Ruth felt the practice was unjust and set about exposing the operation.
Like other people who have felt compelled to act on a perceived wrong, even if it means breaking the law, the vigilante worked to disable or tamper with cameras across Suffolk County. While his actions earned him praise from many residents, it also led to legal trouble for Ruth, as he's faced criminal charges for his actions.
In 2009, Long Island officials installed red light cameras across Suffolk County. These cameras automatically send traffic tickets to anyone who runs a red light. They faced criticism from citizens and some politicians - many felt they were a cash grab rather than a way to make roads safer.
By 2015, Ruth began investigating the city's use of the cameras. He heard that some of his friends were ticketed unfairly, so he learned as much information about the devices as possible.
After investigating how the cameras worked, Ruth discovered numerous potential problems. He believed the city shortened yellow light times to force more people to run red lights. Ruth also argued that the cameras were illegal, as licensed engineers never approved them.
After Ruth's first arrest for tampering with red light cameras, he explained:
[The police] told me I was onto something very big, but at the time I didn’t know what they meant. But after everything blew up, cops started contacting me and telling me that the duration of yellow lights at intersections where the cameras were installed [was] cut in half from six seconds to three to trick people into getting tickets and to generate revenue.
Ruth took matters into his own hands after he decided the cameras were unjust. His first act of protest was to tamper with the devices so they could no longer capture plates. Using an extendable pole, he pushed the cameras to face the sky so they couldn't record people running red lights.
He later took more drastic measures. Rather than only moving the cameras, Ruth cut wires and cables to stop them from functioning. He claims to have rendered more than 19 cameras inoperable.
Ruth has been in trouble with the law several times for his actions. His first arrest came in 2015 after he tampered with the red light cameras, so they pointed to the sky. Soon after, authorities arrested him again for damaging more than a dozen cameras in Suffolk County.
Authorities eventually charged Ruth with a series of felony indictments, for which he faced up to seven years behind bars. In 2017, however, Ruth reached a plea deal with prosecutors to serve probation rather than jail time.