A Long Island man facing criminal charges after police say he tampered with several red light cameras said he knew he would be arrested after posting video of his actions online, declaring it was done in protest of what he called government abuse.
"It's abuse on the hard-working American and with the taxes we pay; it's not necessary," Stephen Ruth told reporters Wednesday, a day after his arrest on charges of criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration.
He was released on a desk appearance ticket following his arrest Tuesday by Suffolk County police, who said they received anonymous tips about Ruth's actions appearing on social media.
The 42-year-old man, who described himself as a landlord, said he became fed up after receiving six tickets for red light camera violations.
"Naturally, I thought I was going to be arrested," he said of the tampering charge. "I thought it was a cause I was willing to fight for and I am still willing to fight for otherwise I wouldn't be incriminating myself on Facebook."
"It's abusive," he later told NBC 4 New York. "People are making full stops and they're still getting tickets. Make a right after making sure no one is coming on the left, and you still get the ticket in the mail."
He said his friends have dubbed him "the Red Light Robin Hood," telling NBC 4 New York Wednesday that it was because he's "fighting for a good cause." One passing driver even paused to congratulate Ruth and said, "You're doing the right thing."
Not everyone agrees. Joe McCarthy, who works near the intersection of Hawkins Avene and the L.I.E. service road where Ruth allegedly tampered with the camera Tuesday, had a friend who died in a motorcycle accident when a driver ran a red light there.
"Number one, you're an idiot for doing it. Number two, you're an idiot for putting it on YouTube," he told NBC 4 New York, referring to the camera tampering. "I don't think he's a hero at all. He's going to get what he deserves."
In the video, Ruth is wearing a white shirt and tie as he approaches a red light camera. He proceeds to use a painter's extension rod and knocks the camera several times, forcing its focus away from the intersection.
"Basically, a 4-year-old can do it," he said.
Advocates for cameras that catch red-light runners point to data showing they reduce accidents, while critics note they are income generators for local government, and can't distinguish between running a red-light during rush hour in a school zone and a technically illegal right turn on a red light at 3 a.m.
Suffolk Police Commanding Officer Milagros Soto said the red-light cameras are ultimately aimed at improving public safety.
"They're placed at specific locations where there's been high rates of crashes," he said. "Tampering with these cameras is a crime."
Nationally, the use of red-light cameras has been dropping, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit scientific and educational organization funded by the insurance industry.
In 2014, 516 communities were employing red light cameras; that number has dropped to 442 as of Wednesday, according to IIHS senior vice president Russ Rader.