The shutters clicked, the grainy photos were sent to the red-light violators and St. Louis raised $4.1 million last year. Now the vehicular version of "Candid Camera" may be ending, as it has in other U.S towns and cities.
A circuit court judge in St. Louis nullified its camera law Feb. 11, two months after a Missouri appeals court judge struck down a similar suburban ordinance. Those rulings have added to the legal and political blowback across the nation against a system whose safety benefits are disputed while its revenue- generating efficiency is not.
"All it is is a money grab," said Joe Brazil, a St. Charles County, Mo., councilman jailed last year for failing to pay a $100 fine in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters. "It's almost like racketeering. It's not about safety."
Opponents in Missouri, New Jersey and other states are proving that city hall can be defeated with court challenges and political pressure. Even as advocates promote cameras' ability to save lives, the number of communities using them has dropped about 6 percent since 2012 to 509, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. Lawmakers in five states, including Ohio and Florida, are considering banning or limiting their use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
While drivers have long complained about tickets from real- life police officers, those transactions afford the opportunity for a face-to-face exchange, even if it's often unpleasant. The Orwellian nature of traffic cameras, used in 21 states, has provoked charges they are inaccurate, unconstitutional and fueled solely by the desire of municipalities and camera companies to raise money.
Red-light cameras in Florida alone raised $119 million last year, according to a study released Feb. 7 by the legislatures's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.