A remarkable instance of sneaky corruption

Stephen Ruth is a man with a mission: he’s busy painting over the lenses, or cutting the wires, of traffic cameras at intersections. At first, I thought it was petty vandalism, throw the book at him, or some deep obsession with privacy…but no. There’s an ethical reason for it.

Wherever the cameras were installed, the county intentionally shortened the duration of the yellow lights from 5 seconds to 3 seconds, knowing that it would increase the frequency of traffic violations (and traffic accidents).

The shortened duration times at the traffic lights generate $32 million for Suffolk County, which is why the county allows the practice to continue despite their own study showing they lead to an increase in accidents with injuries.

Such a little thing, and it brings in $32,000,000. I would call that an elegant scam, except that it’s killing and injuring people. And surprise — the police are supporting Ruth.

And after he cut the wires, he called the news to cover his act of civil disobedience, which resulted in his arrest after police received pressure from politicians. Ruth said police and sheriff deputies support him, because they’re aware of the shortened yellow lights.

Some may even testify on his behalf if his case goes to trial. When he was in jail for his most recent arrest, a sheriff’s deputy even offered to bail him out.

You want another surprise? The county is in bed with Xerox.

Ruth pointed out some cameras that were put up have been taken down after they fell short of daily contract-quota with Xerox to produce 25 citations, per camera, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., which costs Suffolk County $2,132 per day, according to the Xerox contract with the county.

Xerox collects $13 from Suffolk County for each ticket, which increases to $33 per ticket when a camera generates more than 90 tickets in a month.

Shouldn’t the goal of law enforcement be to reduce the number of violations? These guys have incentives to increase the number!


  1. F.O. says

    They are knowingly killing people to raise a buck.
    They should be criminally prosecuted.

    Good on the police to side with our activist, but if they knew about it shouldn’t they have said or done something?

  2. says

    Greedy politicians ruin a good idea. I see plenty of drivers run red lights here in the inside lane when I have comfortably come to a stop in the outside lane.

  3. joel says

    I confess. I’m one of those people who supported traffic cameras when they first started appearing years ago. I changed my mind after seeing several stories like this one: Big corporation offers to install and manage cameras in exchange for a few bucks from each traffic ticket issued. Local politicians quickly realize there is money in those cameras, and look for ways to maximize revenue, all other considerations be damned.
    Fortunately these schemes tend to get outed by whistleblowers. Some places have actually banned traffic cameras by popular vote: Houston, Anaheim, a bunch of smaller locales.

  4. says

    This is the problem with the non-stop cutting of taxes. It turns out governments need money to function and provide services. I don’t know if this is so much corruption as it is a mix of cowardly and anti-tax politicians not willing to admit that taxes need to be raised.

  5. chrislawson says


    It’s corruption. If the problem was revenue starvation, the county could increase the fines or put cameras in more intersections (with a good light-change algorithm). The real giveaway, though, is the deal they have with Xerox that puts more money in the company’s pockets the more fines they issue. There is no honest way of justifying that.

    (Not that cutting taxation to below sustainable levels is coincidental.)

  6. Jackson says

    One interesting idea, which I think is active in Ohio, is that the state funding any city gets for roads is decreased by an amount equal to that collected from traffic cameras.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    From linked story:

    But after receiving attention from local residents and media, Ruth discovered a government entity mounted a camera outside of his home on a telephone pole just like the one LaVoy Finicum took down during the standoff with the government at a National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

    But Ruth doesn’t know exactly where it came from.

    Ruth currently faces 22 years in prison for tampering of public property and obstructing government administration, but relies on his faith and stated he’s on a mission from God to save lives.

    If you think Ruth may be paranoid, consider the case of John Lang, a traffic-light scam whistleblower in Fresno, California who posted on Facebook that police were trying to kill him just days before he was found stabbed to death in his burned down house.

    Police ruled his death a suicide.


  8. methuseus says

    If they used the $32 million to pay any damages and injuries caused by the shortened yellows, maybe it would be ok? But even then, it’s irrevocably hurting and possibly killing people, so that’s really nowhere near enough money to bother with.

  9. DanDare says

    Simple rule. Xerox gets a flat fee and get less if there isn’t a measurble drop in offences. Politicians are sent to jail if the collection revenue increases.

  10. microraptor says

    Shouldn’t the goal of law enforcement be to reduce the number of violations? These guys have incentives to increase the number!

    You’re assuming that law enforcement’s role is protecting citizens. It isn’t. Its goal is to protect the stability of the status quo for rich people.

  11. says

    @#7, chrislawson

    That presumes that people are willing to look at solutions which don’t involve privatizing government functions. The idea of getting governments to Do Things was abandoned by the Democrats under Clinton in favor of the idea that we could Do More Things if we permitted Private Industry to take over government functions. (That is literally a large chunk of the definition of neoliberalism, which characterizes the New Democrats, like the Clintons and Biden.) The Republicans, of course, always favored this sort of thing.

    Or, if you prefer a more practical reading: this sort of garbage will continue until we toss the DINOs out of the party and build some real resistance to the Republicans, which is the case with nearly everything else that’s wrong and stupid these days.

  12. brightmoon says

    I live near there (Long Island NY) so this is a little upsetting! I let my relatives and friends know this as I don’t drive and they do!

  13. Rebel 16 says

    This story is from four and a half years ago. After being fined $85,000, Ruth attended and recorded local legislative meetings for several years, although he stopped last year. He has run several times for local office as a Libertarian, unsuccessfully. In September of this year, Suffolk County legislators voted to extend the red light camera program for another five years.