Burning Man Update: The Jack Rabbit Speaks
Volume 12, Issue #25: THE LAW ENFORCEMENT EDITION
August 18, 2008
Greetings from Black Rock City! Ray Allen, the Burning Man Project's
legal affairs manager, has compiled all the great information about
law enforcement at Burning Man in this special JRS edition ... and you
really should read this ... it's very important. And with that,
"This is a special edition of the JRS dedicated to law enforcement at
Burning Man. The Burning Man Project has always welcomed law
enforcement in Black Rock City. Indeed, the Project is grateful for
law enforcement's function because the event could not operate without
the law enforcement officers who patrol our metropolis. Furthermore,
the Project appreciates law enforcement's concerns and difficulties in
keeping Black Rock City safe.
Hopefully the information below will answer all of your questions
about law enforcement at Burning Man — questions such as: What law
enforcement agencies patrol the event? How do the Black Rock Rangers
differ from law enforcement? What is the LEAL team? Are there new
laws this year to be aware of? What should I do if I am stopped by
law enforcement for questioning in Black Rock City? How can I give
feedback about law enforcement interactions? What was the outcome of
the cases that Lawyers for Burners took on? What is LOOP? Read
on ... all these questions and more are answered below."
Good stuff, Ray ... thank you.
12 days 'til the Man burns. tick tick tick.
====================TABLE OF CONTENTS=======================
LAW ENFORCEMENT AT BURNING MAN
+ WHAT PUBLIC AGENCIES PATROL THE EVENT?
+ HOW DO THE BLACK ROCK RANGERS DIFFER FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT? WHAT IS
THE LEAL TEAM?
+ PLEASE RESPECT LAW ENFORCEMENT - ESPECIALLY IF YOU IF YOU'RE STOPPED
+ SPECIFIC LAWS TO BE AWARE OF IN 2008
+ GIVE US YOUR REAL-TIME FEEDBACK WITH A "LAW ENFORCEMENT FEEDBACK FORM"
+ WHAT IS LOOP?
+ LAWYERS FOR BURNERS FINAL REPORT ON BURNING MAN 2007
+ SUBMIT YOUR FEEBDBACK FROM 2007
+ OPEN CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
+ FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE SEE ...
+ Want to unsubscribe from the JRS? Srsly? OK, here's how:
===============LAW ENFORCEMENT AT BURNING MAN=================
WHAT PUBLIC AGENCIES PATROL THE EVENT?
Officers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) patrol throughout
Black Rock City and the surrounding Black Rock Desert. BLM Rangers
typically wear tan pants and short-sleeved shirts with the Department
of the Interior/BLM logo on their sleeves. Investigative BLM agents
work undercover and dress like any other Burning Man participant. BLM
Rangers and Agents are primarily concerned with violations of federal
The Pershing County Sheriff's Office also patrols Black Rock City, and
is supported by officers from other counties. They usually wear gray/
light blue short-sleeved polo shirts. Their primary task is enforcing
state and local laws within Black Rock City. The Washoe County
Sheriff's Office primarily patrols the nearby town of Gerlach. They
wear green uniforms, and they are concerned mainly with keeping the
traffic moving and ensuring that Burning Man participants respect
local citizens' privacy and property.
The Nevada State Health Division's goal is to protect the health of
our citizens and prevent food-borne epidemics, or other health hazards.
HOW DO THE BLACK ROCK RANGERS DIFFER FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT? WHAT IS
THE LEAL TEAM?
The Black Rock Rangers are Burning Man participants who volunteer time
and effort as non-confrontational community mediators. Responding to
the continuously evolving nature of the event, Rangers address
situations within the community that would otherwise require outside
intervention. By encouraging and facilitating communication, the
Rangers promote awareness of potential hazards, from sunstroke to tent
LEAL is an acronym for Law Enforcement Agency Liaison. The LEAL Team
is comprised of volunteer Black Rock Rangers who are specifically
trained to interact with law enforcement on the playa. They don't
directly deal with violations of the law, but they are available to
help bridge the gap between our ethos and culture, and the duties and
responsibilities of law enforcement officers working on the playa. One
or more representatives of this team will be on duty around the clock
during the event. They often wear some item of zebra print clothing,
along with their Ranger shirts, to help identify them. You can
contact a LEAL team member by asking at Ranger Headquarters in Center
Camp, or asking any Black Rock Ranger you see to radio for their
It is important to remember that Black Rock Rangers (including LEAL
team members) are not law enforcement personnel. They are members of
the Burning Man community, just like you. You can identify them by
their khaki-colored attire, featuring the familiar Burning Man logo in
brown on their backs and chests. You should feel free to request their
assistance at any time.
PLEASE RESPECT LAW ENFORCEMENT - ESPECIALLY IF YOU IF YOU'RE STOPPED
It is important to remember that without law enforcement in Black Rock
City there would be no Burning Man event. BLM would not permit the
event on federal lands. Also, the State of Nevada would not allow
such a large assembly without enforcement of state laws. Furthermore,
the Burning Man Project would not even consider holding such a large-
scale event without law enforcement's expertise and assistance.
So, what can you as a participant do to prepare in case you have an
encounter with law enforcement at Burning Man?
First, you are well served by fully understanding law enforcement's
concerns, rationales, and potential behaviors on playa and the
situations this can produce (as well as the legal consequences it can
engender). This information is found in a concise and readable form in
the Law Enforcement section of the Survival Guide. (The Survival
Guide has been mailed out to all ticket holders, and is available on
Second, you should look within yourself, and choose the behaviors you
will engage in on playa before you arrive on playa and become
potentially swept away by the events of the moment. Third, you need to
look beyond yourself and include your campmates and playa traveling
companions in your mix. Do not let their choices and their behavior
put you in legal jeopardy.
Fourth, familiarize yourself with this year's areas of concern for law
enforcement (see the next section).
Finally, you could help the Burning Man Project make this work better
every year by completing a Law Enforcement Feedback Form on playa this
year (see below).
Many Burners find it useful to look at the law enforcement officers
who work the Burning Man event as participants with differing agendas,
differing levels of playa experience and differing levels of Burner
"sophistication". For many years in the past many (if not most) law
enforcement officers were "playa experienced" and worked the event
year after year. Many of them, like many Burners, were Burning Man
volunteers (of a sort) and worked the event by choice. They looked
forward to returning to the playa year after year and many of them
grew to appreciate and understand the culture of Burning Man. However,
as our event has grown over the years, more and more law enforcement
officers have had to be brought in on pace with our population growth.
For example, we have simply outgrown the limited resources of the
Pershing County Sheriff's Office based in Lovelock, and they now have
to bring in officers from other Nevada jurisdictions to supplement
their own numbers. Similar policies affect BLM's staffing.
Any Burning Man newbie has a pretty steep learning curve upon arriving
on the playa, living in Black Rock City and experiencing Burning Man.
Lots of folks cannot readily absorb the kaleidoscope of sights,
sounds, and human interaction that spring from the Burning Man
experience, and it takes them a while to adjust and to adapt. This
challenge is heightened by the fact that Black Rock City only exists
for a week. This process is made more difficult for Burning Man law
enforcement officers because they arrive on playa with a pre-defined
set of criteria (the laws they are sworn to enforce); they are not at
liberty to discard or even selectively enforce these laws.
Unfortunately, some officers also arrive with pre-conceived ideas
about Burning Man, which may or may not align with reality. The result
is a predictable (perhaps even inevitable) clash between the values
and behaviors that are the tapestry of the Burning Man culture, and
many of law enforcement's perceptions about their role as the
designated law enforcement force on playa.
As you can tell from observing law enforcement's behavior on playa,
and as you can conclude from the changing/evolving content of each
year's Survival Guide, the priorities and agenda(s) of law enforcement
can often shift from year to year. This is a function of many factors,
including changes in law enforcement personnel, changes in Black Rock
City citizen behaviors, changes in Burner population and demographics,
changes in pressure and priorities from entities and sources outside
of Burning Man and law enforcement.
The Burning Man Project would like to thank all law enforcement
agencies at Black Rock for their 15 years of ongoing cooperative
effort. The law enforcement presence at Burning Man is for public
safety. They provide numerous instances of invaluable services for
the good of the community, as public servants. We all have jobs to
do, whether patrolling the streets of Black Rock or passing out rubber
chickens, why don't we try to get along? Let's respect one another on
the playa and practice a little of that radical inclusion we keep
J. Duane Hoover
Law Enforcement & Agency Liaison (LEAL) Team Manager
Black Rock Rangers
The Burning Man Project
SPECIFIC LAWS TO BE AWARE OF IN 2008
It is important to remember that all Federal, State and Local laws
still exist at Burning Man. THE USE AND TRAFFICKING OF ILLEGAL
SUBSTANCES IS PROHIBITED.
There is usually an emphasis on patrolling Gate Road and at Greeter
stations early in the event, as heavy traffic can create unsafe
conditions. Even though Gate Road is part of Black Rock City, this is
not where mutant vehicles should be operated—unless your mutant
vehicle is street legal and your mode of transportation into the
event. Stick to the rules of the road while entering Black Rock City
— headlights on at night, no passengers on the roof or hanging off the
side. Wait until you receive your official sticker from DMV before
allowing your vehicle to fully mutate into the bar car, public taxi or
art that it is meant to be. Headlights and taillights on art cars will
also be monitored while on playa.
Remember that once you arrive at your campsite, driving is prohibited
except for DMV licensed mutant vehicles. NO SPEEDING anywhere in
Black Rock City, including Gate Road! The definition of speeding is a
dust plume that exceeds the height of the vehicle. Please be
forewarned that this can be used as a rationale to pull over your
NO OPEN ALCOHOLIC CONTAINERS in the driver's area of moving vehicles.
An open container does not have to be in the driver's possession.
Sitting in the center console and being consumed by the passenger is
enough to be a violation. The vehicle does not have to be in motion.
The bottom line — no driving with an open container in the driver's
compartment at any time, particularly on Gate Road and Greeters
For more information see:
BLM's 2008 Burning Man Temporary Closure Order
Burning Man 2008 Survival Guide
GIVE US YOUR REAL-TIME FEEDBACK WITH A "LAW ENFORCEMENT FEEDBACK FORM"
If you experience or witness an encounter with law enforcement on the
playa this year, whether it's positive or negative, the Burning Man
Project wants to know about it. We'll have Law Enforcement Feedback
Forms available at Ranger Headquarters in Center Camp, and at the
Ranger Outposts in the 3:00 and 9:00 o'clock plazas. The quicker you
can provide us with your feedback, the more effective we can be at
following up on situations that occur.
Please try to provide accurate information about the date, time, and
location of any incidents, as much detail as you can provide about the
officer(s) involved and a clear account of what you saw and heard. We
need badge numbers, law enforcement vehicle license plate numbers, an
accurate description of the officer's agency affiliation, their
uniform description and their vehicle description. The facts of the
interaction need to be presented as clearly as possible in order for
the report to be of maximum utility. Names and contact information for
any additional witnesses are also helpful.
These reports are gathered by the Black Rock Rangers LEAL Team (see
above) and are presented and discussed at the daily afternoon meeting
with law enforcement. A 2:00 PM deadline insures inclusion of the
report in that day's meeting. The object is to inform law enforcement
of their observed behaviors and to hopefully shape those behaviors on
playa. Important note: Burning Man recognizes that negative feedback
can arise as a natural consequence of unfolding events. However,
positive Law Enforcement Feedback Form reports are also important. Law
enforcement often performs valuable community services at Burning Man,
and these acts also need to be recognized so that they can be
reinforced and encouraged. If you'd like to make a report in person,
ask to speak to a member of the LEAL team.
WHAT IS LOOP?
The Law Officer Oversight Project (LOOP) is a grassroots effort being
organized by volunteers, who are independent from the Burning Man
Project. The efforts of this group have come about because some
concerned citizens perceive an increase in the presence of law
enforcement in Black Rock City. Some believe there is a corresponding
increase in reports of unconstitutional searches and arrests and other
forms of uncomfortable law enforcement encounters. LOOP's goal is to
help keep a harmonious balance between curbing illegal activity and
respecting people's civil rights through monitoring law enforcement
(without interfering), and educating participants about their legal
LOOP Station will be located in Center Camp, and will act as a
clearinghouse for information about your legal rights. LOOP will be
handing out cards with information on how to exercise your legal
rights if you are stopped for questioning. Also, there will be the
"Fruit LOOP" lecture series, which are breakfast seminars about your
individual rights. Come by for a bowl of fruit loops and walk away
with more information about your civil rights. If you or someone you
know has been issued a citation or arrested, then after you fill out a
Law Enforcement Feedback Form, stop by LOOP to learn what your legal
LOOP is looking for volunteers to help with the project. If you are
interested, please send a quick note of how you would like to help and
a resume or a bit more about who you are to: LOOP2008 [at] mac [dot] com. Know
your rights, LOOP loves you.
LAWYERS FOR BURNERS FINAL REPORT ON BURNING MAN 2007
As background, Lawyers for Burners (LFB) formed, in the fall of 2007,
as an independent organization, separate from the Burning Man Project,
to provide participants with legal resources to address the perceived
increase in law enforcement interactions in Black Rock City in 2007.
As reported, the BLM issued 331 federal citations on the playa in 2007
compared to 155 in 2006. The total number of participants who were
issued verbal warnings also grew as well. By many accounts, law
enforcement's presence was perceived as much greater in 2007.
In October 2007, LFB began asking the Burning Man community to report
personal encounters with law enforcement. The team communicated with
over 50 participants, and began to collect their stories.
As LFB worked with participants, they discovered that many received
tickets for offenses like "open container" and "speeding." LFB
discovered that some law enforcement agencies may not have followed
their own notice requirements and that the federal court would, in
those circumstances, dismiss the charges. Ultimately the Court did
dismiss citations when participants challenged them in court. Many
others simply pled guilty to the offense and paid the citation by mail.
After collecting participant information, LFB formulated an approach
to assist participants by matching them with lawyers who agreed to
assist in the U.S. District Court in Reno, NV. Those lawyers either
worked for free or for substantially reduced rates. The team also
launched a successful fundraising campaign over the Internet to raise
money to cover court costs and travel expenses. LFB never charged any
of its clients for its work.
Throughout late 2007 and early 2008, LFB met with clients and
potential clients at four separate arraignment dates. A team of
talented Nevada lawyers assisted the team toward the goal to aid any
participant who received citations from law enforcement with resources
and in some cases, LFB signed on as counsel of record and defended
participants against charges brought by the Federal Government.
At a Nov. 15, 2007 arraignment date, all of the participants -- more
than 20 -- challenged their citations. Every single participant
there, who received a citation, stood up and pleaded not guilty and
asked for a trial date. The Court set trials for the months of
December 2007 through April 2008.
When an officer detains a citizen, which results in the issuance of a
citation, that officer must complete a short statement that details
the officer's probable cause. The officer makes this statement under
"penalty of perjury." If the stop and search was illegal, anything
the officer finds cannot be used as evidence of a crime.
LFB presented the defenses to the United States Attorney for Nevada,
and in several cases, presented motions to suppress evidence
unlawfully seized to the U.S. Magistrate Judge. To its credit, the
United States Attorney's office in Reno listened to the concerns about
the circumstances of several citations. The United States Attorney
decided not to prosecute several cases. In other cases, the
Government's lawyer agreed to charge some participants with a lesser
offense such as "littering," and agreed to reduce the fine by half.
Overall, LFB was able to communicate with 54 participants who received
citations in 2007. The team tried to reach more participants, but the
Court changed its procedures after the first arraignment and stopped
publishing the court docket. Thus, LFB could only help participants
who contacted them based on Internet postings or who walked up at one
of the arraignments. Of those with whom the team communicated, 31
participants were represented. Of those 30, all but one, had their
charge dismissed or reduced by the Court or by the United States
While pleased overall with the efforts and results, and grateful to
everyone who donated time and/or money to LFB, the team realized the
potential of a long-term ongoing project. The issue of examining and
evaluating interactions with law enforcement go beyond these that end
in citations. LFB would like to hear about all citations and
interactions from 2007 and are now committed to the same support for
In preparation for the 2008 Event, LFB is working with the Burning Man
Project on improving the collection of information from participants
who encounter law enforcement on the Playa. Outreach and education
efforts will be expanded to inform participants about how one should
respond when stopped by law enforcement on the Playa. Offers of
assistance and volunteerism are welcome as the team prepares for the
2008 Event. LFB is grateful to everyone for their support and
David S. Levin
david [at] levinlawfirm [dot] com
Lawyers for Burners
SUBMIT YOUR FEEBDBACK FROM 2007
We know it's almost time for the 2008 Burning Man event, but the
Project still wants your feedback from last year. Did you have any
interaction with law enforcement in 2007 at Burning Man? Was it a
positive experience? Did you learn something new about the Black Rock
Desert? Did you have a negative experience? (Please note, receiving
a ticket for engaging in illegal activity in plain view is not really
what we mean by "negative" experience.) Do you feel that you were
harassed or illegally searched? Did you interact with a BLM Ranger, a
Pershing County Deputy or another agency? Whether you were cited or
not, particularly if you were NOT cited, we want your feedback.
The Burning Man Project is coordinating with Lawyers for Burners
(LFB), a self-organized community group, to evaluate interactions with
all our law enforcement agencies last year. Please go to
, click on "Burners" and then fill out the intake form. Please note
that any info you report on this website will be subject to attorney-
client privilege, meaning that the information will be held in
confidence by LFB. (Please also note that submitting information does
not mean that LFB is automatically your lawyer. This is just the
preliminary phase of collecting information. However, if you feel
that you would like to legally redress your situation then LFB can
counsel you on your options.) A summary of the interactions (not
including confidential attorney-client privileged information) will be
shared with the Burning Man Project.
OPEN CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
The Burning Man Project is looking for knowledgeable professionals who
wish to offer their skills and experience to help improve Burning
Man's safety infrastructure. If you are a lawyer, paralegal, security
guard, retired judge, retired police officer, and feel that you have
the time and expertise to dedicate either on-playa or year-round then
please send a note to legal [at] burningman[dot] com. Burning Man was created
with volunteers. The Man wants you!
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE SEE ...
BLM's 2008 Burning Man Temporary Closure Order
Burning Man Survival Guide, on Burningman.com at:
The Survival Guide lists all of the illegal activities on playa, and
tells you how to conduct yourself if you are stopped for questioning.
Know Your Rights: The ACLU publishes a guide on What To Do If You're
Stopped by Police on the ACLU website at:
Know Your Rights Videos: Flex Your Rights offers free videos online on
how to behave if stopped by law enforcement on their website at:
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