Law Enforcement at Burning Man

You Wish These Were the Handcuffs They Use

While Burning Man is certainly a remote and freewheeling place, it’s also a functioning metropolis. And just like any other city, numerous law enforcement agencies patrol Black Rock City day and night.

Yes, not to toss cold water on anyone’s excitement, but this topic is important: all Federal, State and Local laws still exist at Burning Man, and any illegal action witnessed by law enforcement can lead to a citation or your arrest. Law enforcement officers have a difficult yet important job, both on and off the playa. Please respect the valuable work that they do. It is the duty of all law enforcement personnel to enforce the law, and they are there to help protect our citizenry.

In order to give you the best understanding of how law enforcement works at Burning Man, how to interact with a law enforcement officer, and how to protect your Constituional rights, professionals in the extended Burning Man community have generously provided the following information.

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.  The Nevada Department of Investigations works with BLM to look for drug trafficking.  Both agencies use undercover agents to patrol.  Remember, illegal drugs are no more legal at Burning Man than they are anywhere else.  If you choose to ignore this fact, you risk citations, arrest, court costs, lawyer fees, etc.

Nevada has some of the strictest drug trafficking laws in the country.  Even gifting a small amount of illegal substance can be considered trafficking.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office will be in Black Rock City enforcing state and local laws.  There is a new Sheriff for the first time since Burning Man has been in Pershing County, but the laws are still the same.  So once again, remember that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcoholic beverages.  If you are gifting drinks, please be sure to check the age of anyone who does not look 21. Ask for ID.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office can also be found close at hand, primarily patrolling the nearby town of Gerlach.  They wear green uniforms, and are concerned mainly with keeping the traffic moving and ensuring that Burning Man participants respect local citizens’ privacy and property.  Please be sure that all head and tail lights on your vehicle are working properly, your registration is up-to-date, and your license plate is clearly visible, to avoid an unscheduled stop on your way to the playa.

The Nevada State Health Division is also present.  Their goal is to protect the health of our citizens and prevent food-borne epidemics, or other health hazards.

Specific Laws to be Aware of in 2011


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, etc..  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! Please be forewarned that this can be used as a rationale to pull over your vehicle.

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 stations.

NO UNDERAGE DRINKING. At Burning Man, we want you to let go of your inhibitions and feel fully free to discover and express yourself.  We believe everyone is perfectly capable of reaching this level of freedom without the aid of any intoxicating substances (after all, what is more intoxicating than walking along the esplanade at night?), and even more strongly believe that all of the citizens of Black Rock City can experience all that Burning Man has to offer without breaking the law.

If you are running a bar or camp that gifts alcoholic beverages, please be sure to check identification of anyone that may look under 21, no matter how “burnery” they seem.  If you are planning to drink, as in any city, town, or event, please carry your ID in a safe and secure location.  If you are under 21, please feel free to explore and engage in all the magic and wonder that Black Rock City has to offer, as long as you do it according to the law, and alcohol-free.

For more information see:
BLM’s 2011 Burning Man Temporary Closure Order (PDF)
Burning Man 2011 Survival Guide

Please Respect Law Enforcement – Especially If You’re Stopped for Questioning

How can you as a participant be prepared in the instance that you have an encounter with law enforcement at Burning Man?

First, it is very helpful to understand law enforcement’s concerns, rationales, and potential behaviors on playa and the situations you may encounter (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.

Second, you should remember that the playa is a place to fully express and be yourself.  Please choose the behaviors you feel comfortable engaging in on playa before you arrive and become potentially swept away by the events of the moment.

Third, you need to look outside yourself and consider your campmates and  traveling companions in your decisions. Do not let their choices and their behavior put you in legal jeopardy, and do not let yours endanger them.

Fourth, familiarize yourself with this year’s areas of concern for law enforcement (see above).

Finally, you could help the Burning Man Project improve every year by completing a Law Enforcement Feedback Form on playa this year (see below).

Many Burners find it useful to consider law enforcement officers who work the Burning Man event to be participants with differing agendas, differing levels of playa experience and differing levels of Burner acculturation. In the past, many (if not most) law enforcement officers were “playa experienced” and worked the event year after year. Many of them made it a personal choice to come to Burning Man and work the event. They looked forward to returning to the playa year after year and 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 to keep 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.

As many of you already know, 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, and 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 sliding down a giant wedge of astro-turf, 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 talking about.

Learn How to Interact with Law Enforcement & Protect Your Rights

These free videos from are SUPER VALUABLE to watch to learn how to interact with law enforcement and protect your rights.  WATCH THEM!

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 would like to hear about it.  Each participant will receive a feedback form at the Greeter’s Station.  They are also 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.

These reports are gathered by the Black Rock Rangers LEAL Team and are presented and discussed at the daily afternoon meeting with law enforcement.  A 2:00 PM deadline ensures inclusion of the report in that day’s meeting. The purpose is to inform law enforcement of their observed behaviors and to hopefully shape those behaviors on playa.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

28 Comments on “Law Enforcement at Burning Man

  • Eric Debter (aka) Fourplay says:

    Being my first year at burning man I have no prob. Showing all law Enforcement the respect that thay require for the greater good of Burning Man,An to give my feedback to All my burner citizens of Black Rock….

    Thanks. Eric C Debter Sr. (AKA-Fourplay)

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  • Dawn says:

    I attended Burningman in 2004. The experience was way postive and I saw or experenced no negative law enforcement.
    I don’t even remember seeing any law enforcement other than the BLM.
    Keep Burning!

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  • Colbyman says:

    I have my distaste for police. But, I have been going for 5 years and have only seen positive interaction and reaction by law enforcement. I heard there were drug dogs on the playa last year, I would like to know if thats a rumor.

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  • Desperado says:

    No drug dogs….really. They would “alert” to everything and would be pretty useless.

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  • Colbyman says:

    …….. an awesome , rational blog as well.

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  • arnold says:

    after 8 years, my experiences with law enforcement has always been positive. I went as far as to give some sheriff’s deputies some gifts (while wearing hot pants on my head) :)

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  • Face says:

    Black Rock City officially became a full blown police state in 2009. The days of having any slightly illegal fun in public are over. Law enforcement is out there to take as much money from you as they can, not to help you.

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  • natasha says:

    Went last year and met an undercover out one night dressed as a safari explorer, 1800’s british type. He seems to only be watching people and more “standing guard” than dancing/enjoying the camp like everyone else. I went up and talked to him and evnetually he admitted he was, in fact, an undercover and there were only 10 of them on patrol that night. 10. for 55,000 people. He was friendly but fairly “no nonsense” so I eventually took my rainbow glowing baton and bid him farewell. Incredible week, no complaints, but just a reminder they ARE out there, be careful if you choose to use, and keep your eyes peeled for the safari explorer!

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  • Brenda Brower says:

    Last year we visited at the temple with an officer with the blm. Very nice guy! We had a blast last year and can hardly wait to return in just under a couple weeks! If law enforcement has to be there,,,, so what. Let them enjoy the event and get paid to be there!

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  • Raúl del la Playa says:

    Been burning since ’95. It IS a police state now. Law enforcement is NOT your friend. They are there to bust as many people as possible. They even hire young women to party around and beg guys to at least “share” some X or other item with them…. then your whole camp gets swooped down on by ATV squads hiding in the area. No dogs, maybe, but I witnessed a guy & girl pulled out of a VW van where they had just smoked a bowl together. The pigs hunted down the smell themselves. So pot is actually the most dangerous drug to use… because of the smell.

    Be very, very careful, folks.

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  • Kim says:

    I ran into no cops last year, but judging by some of these comments, apparently they are cracking down, i don’t like the sound of that.

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  • HK says:

    They’re there.
    They’re pigs.
    They suck.

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  • Undercover girls says:

    I too witnessed an undercover entrapment. It was 2 young attractive scantily clad young ladies asking for E from my dumb hardup friend. He tracked it down for them, then got swooped by some plain clothed and uniformed cops. I believe the year was 2005 or thereabouts. I saw them swoop. I later heard the info about the girls. They’ve been doing the same thing at Coachella for years.
    I also saw another swoop in 2000. My friend was alone smoking a bowl in his car. Because his car window was slightly open, they had technical leeway to search. While some consider the car a home, Ive heard there is a technicality on unwarranted searching if the home is “open”.

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  • Cozmic says:

    >>Please be sure that all head and tail lights on your vehicle are working properly, your registration is up-to-date, and your license plate is clearly visible, to avoid an unscheduled stop on your way to the playa.<<

    Reading between the lines, it sounds as if the local police want to find any excuse to boost revenue. Typical small town shakedown. Maybe it's time to take the golden goose somewhere else. The Nevada desert is huge, change is good.

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  • Puntybunny says:

    I’ve seen them speeding at night on mostly unlit 4-wheelers. Last year they did an illegal search of a friend’s car waiting to get in. With dogs. Another friend got harassed by several cops yelling at him at once, intimidated him into an illegal search, & picked up for a small thing. They put him in a group with 4 others, some who had been busted for hard drugs. But the cops only had space for 4 in the cells so they randomly cut one loose, while my friend ended up with expense & trouble. This is not right. I can see those dark trucks just silouhetted on the horizon at night. BM is good at self-policing. The law is there in a parasite role – to collect money.

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  • Andy says:

    My first and evidently last time at the burn this year?…some good sound advice by others right there but also some obvious scare mongering……50% really excited and cant wait to experience this incredible event and 50% uneasy about the whole undercover copper thing…stroke being set up and targeted…thing!
    Im sure it goes on but why not just patrol the site officially with no hiding, punters will see that blatant and free ‘use’ or whatever is being policed but it gives everyone the chance to fully immerse themselves paranoia free in what will be a mind blowing Man Burning show.
    Maybe it is the state making dollar but lets face it, thats a damn negative and sneaky way to do it…I dont like the sound of it at all.
    Nothing left to say other than ENJOY THE BURN WHILE IT LASTS EVERYONE!

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  • Hackrobat says:

    Let’s allow the natural market forces to come to work. While BM has been building a relationship with the local authorities for sometime, it seems as if there are many other areas where something like this could be held (dry lake beds are not all that uncommon in the southwest united states). There is a growing concern with the idea that law enforcement is attempting to generate revenue for their jurisdiction by using underhanded and unwelcome drug interdiction methods. If this is the case, then it also means that those same governmental bodies would probably be interested in keeping the event in the same place to generate revenue for the same municipalities year to year. BM has created a demand for itself which can realize leverage once they have an alternative competing venue who would be interested in hosting the event without such an overbearing law enforcement presence. People will get fined and ticketed no matter what, but if we can have competing venues, then the demand for the event will hopefully be a bargaining chip that can allow the event coordinators more freedom in constructing a more perfect burning man.

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  • scooter says:

    I’ve never been to Burning Man. I have been wanting to go for years. I don’t think I will go after reading this. Not because I do drugs, I don’t, but because I can’t stand to see peoples liberty assaulted by the dark forces of the brooding, jealous public. Sorry to hear about your troubles. I hope that you are all successful in finding whatever it is you find out there. Even though I never made it, thank you for keeping the torch of liberty burning so brightly for so long.

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  • Pink Daddy says:

    The first year I attended in 2005, I didn’t notice any police… undercover or not. In 2008, I saw some patrol vehicles, but they were very obvious and very friendly. Last year, it was really bad. I saw undercover vehicles, undercover cops, sting operations, high-speed vehicles racing dangerously fast across the playa, you name it. We even had some undercover cops ride on our art car for awhile. They made me extremely paranoid, even though I wasn’t doing anything illegal. I felt concerned about my fellow Burners who weren’t careful.

    One evening, I was driving our camp’s art car over to Root Society. I saw a line of dark, unmarked SUVs which obviously had cops in them. They were watching the dance floor with night vision goggles. I pulled the art car up right next to them and turned on all of our flashing lights. Everyone could easily see them. It made me happy.

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  • AsOfTime says:

    …if you think that they are there to keep you safe think again. It is and always has been about revenue for the the police in those poor surrounding communities and every year they are waiting for your return and how much money they are going to take from you. So line up sheep as you get near the gate and get your wallets open hipsters.And this year police force has doubled for a fact. Many new police jobs have filled up with in the last year in that area,look it up. I hope they turn the dogs loose on the whole shame of burning man as it has come to be.

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  • kyrie wimer says:

    This is how I see it….Nevada is a no tolerance state…no stems or seeds…..we all should know this if deciding to indulge. The law enforcement over the last 2 years have, instead of taking you to jail, been issuing tickets. $500 fine and confiscation of your drugs is a slap on the hand compared to jail, returning from where ever you are from to go to court, and dealing with the consequences. I think it is a better trade-off for sure. I haven’t heard of fines for pot….just the dumping and stomping of it into the playa. I was told to keep it in camp, never in the open….kinda like partying at home and then going out….you don’t walk around your hometown popping pills or smoking joints (usually) so why do it here. Freedom of self-expression not freedom to break the law.

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  • nina says:

    Sell-out! I know someone undercover at burning man, they suck and do not care about your safety! What happened to fuck the system now its welcome the system because we are making some money? I won’t be back ever!

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  • CJ says:

    I operate a website that refers local people to local lawyers. The service is free to the community. If you happen to find yourself in trouble, please call us and we’ll get you an attorney to help right away. We have pre-screened all of the attorneys so you can be sure they are trustworthy. They are only Nevada lawyers that specialize in handling Burning Man cases. They have had great success in the past in getting charges reduced or in some cases, dropped all together. It’s important to get an attorney from the Lovelock/Pershing county area that knows the judges and the judicial system. Check out or call me at 775 842 3016. Ask for CJ.

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  • tom from bus #26 says:

    In my six burns I have saw cops yes, but only can report,I have always had a great time, although I maybe older than some, and come from an era when weed in the smallest amounts was a felony,( no slack) Just be cool,and if you don’t know how, just stay home,,,, nothing like burning man in the world, the coolest week of the year, no doubt,,,,,,

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  • Jamie says:

    This was my first year at Burning Man and as soon as I entered the gates I felt like I was going into a police state. My friend and I were pulled over and they immediately started to search the car with the drug dog. They found some Loritabs that were prescribed to me and the prescrption was on the bottle but because I had mixed other medications (800 mg Ibuprofen) with the Loritabs they took the bottle and charged me with Possession of a Controlled Substance. Not only that but the police officers were very rude the entire time and they ransacked everything in the car just assuming that we had drugs. They also told me that I would have to come back to Reno to fight the ticket and so I might as well just pay it. So basically I am going to have to pay thousands of dollars to get a lawyer and go to court just to prove that I am innocent.

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  • n says:

    i was planning on going to burning man next year. i am currently doing a report about it in school. i would like to know if i should go or not, because it seems like everybody has mixed stories about the police. i do not do drugs but i take perscription medication and acid reflux pills. should i go???

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  • DMAN says:

    Just heard from a friend of mine about his BM experience. An undercover sexy dressed cat woman kept asking my friend for drugs.. She would not leave… kept asking for different ones… friend didn’t have anything she mentioned. Finally he gave her something so she can move on. Instead she quickly called two backups near by. He got cuffed, drove 3 hours away in a van full of Burners. Posted bail days later, no one knew where he was. He got back back SUNDAY mid morning.
    I’ve been 7 times my self, not a drug user, but a heavy drinker when I am there. I’m going to ask ID to anyone asking for BOOZE! F*** TP!

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