The controversy exemplifies the tension in local governments between protecting public safety within the limits of financial resources and residents' tolerance. It can be a difficult balance.
Brick Township, which in 2010 became one of New Jersey's first municipalities to install cameras, shut them down Feb. 17, after generating 74,000 tickets. The treasury of the seaside town collected $800,000 in fines last year alone.
"It's wrong to try to balance a budget on ill-gotten gains from a program that's premised on safety," said Mayor John Ducey, adding that police data showed crashes actually increased in the community of 75,000.
"I can find other ways to have some savings and bring in revenue," Ducey said.
Supporters say cameras promote safety and allow police money and time to fight serious crime. In St. Louis, which is appealing this month's ruling, the force has shrunk about one- third in the past 15 years, said Chief Sam Dotson. The city has cameras at 35 intersections.
"I just don't have the resources to be able to focus on traffic enforcement like we used to," Dotson said, adding that the system has "reduced accidents, kept people safe and allowed me to focus on crime reduction and not traffic enforcement."
Chicago, which carries the largest per-capita debt load among the 25 largest U.S. cities, has reaped more than $300 million since 2003 from cameras at 190 intersections. New York will expand its program as part of a plan to reduce speed in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Feb. 20.
The Insurance Institute issued a report in 2011 showing that large cities with longstanding camera systems reported 24 percent fewer crashes from running red lights. In 2012, 683 people were killed and an estimated 133,000 were injured in such crashes, according to the organization.
Cameras lose support when programs give the impression that the main goal is to generate revenue, said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute. Communities must clearly communicate that devices are being installed at intersections with a history of crashes, he said.