Police near Minneapolis used drones last week to check if sunbathers at a lakeside beach were breaking the law by going nude or topless.
The Golden Valley Police Department used the high-tech surveillance devices at Twin Lake on July 10 after receiving complaints from the public, city communications director Cheryl Weiler told CNN.
“This stuff has been going on there for decades,” she said. “When the police are called to the park it’s because someone has complained.”
The somewhat secluded beach is known for being “a safe place to just be comfortable,” Elsie Olin, a frequent visitor, told CNN affiliate WCCO.
Police Sgt. Randy Mahlen told WCCO that using drones “would be no different than a surveillance camera in a public place for a high-crime area.”
Golden Valley addressed the use of drones in a statement on its website.
“Drone footage is accessible only to very few staff within the department and is only used for documentation, evidence collection, and prosecution if needed,” the statement said. “Police staff are trained in data privacy and maintaining confidentiality. By law, people in public spaces have no expectation of privacy from being recorded by security devices.”
Olin and other witnesses said it appeared police were pursuing people of color.
“The two or three Black people that were super visible on the beach, [officers] went straight for them,” Olin said.
The police presence was “outrageous,” witness Jacob Carrigan said on Facebook.
“The City reviewed drone footage and went to the beach to collect personal information from those who appeared to be violating the law,” Golden Valley officials said in the statement. “At the beach, the police collected information from eight individuals to determine if citations should be issued for various infractions. Of the eight individuals observed violating the law that police were able to obtain information from, two were people of color.”
The police did not issue any citations.
The Golden Valley statement also said the city “strongly condemns racism and discrimination” and “works to make its community a welcoming and respectful place for all.”
Mahlen said officers were prepared to take information from several people who had been topless or nude, but that hostility from the crowd changed their plans, WCCO reported.
“We made the choice that things were only escalating and we chose to leave,” Mahlen said.