Law Enforcement in Black Rock City

The Man, 2013 (photo by John Curley)
The Man, 2013 (photo by John Curley)

As the Department of Public Works toils away building the infrastructure of Black Rock City, the law enforcement agencies who patrol our fair metropolis are also on site now, setting up their own infrastructure.

These law enforcement agencies — BLM Rangers, Pershing County Sheriffs Office — are there to enforce the Federal, State and Local laws that apply to us on the Black Rock Desert — yes, these laws still exist at Burning Man. While Black Rock City is certainly a remote and freewheeling place, it’s also a functioning metropolis. And just like in any other city, law enforcement patrols BRC day and night to keep the city safe and compliant with the laws that allow us to have the event in the first place. So yes, any illegal action on your part can lead to a citation (more common) or your arrest (rare).

The Burning Man organization works hard year-round and on playa to establish a solid working relationship with these agencies, and while there are always growing pains in a new year and with a new BLM crew, we’re committed to cooperative collaboration to create a workable and sensible environment for everybody to enjoy. To that end, we encourage participants to report all interactions with law enforcement — both positive and negative — by filling out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger HQ, so we can use that information in our daily on-playa meetings with law enforcement.

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.

That said, you should absolutely know your civil rights, as they are still in full effect on playa as well. For more information, please watch this video from the ACLU about protecting your civil rights at Burning Man:

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

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20 Comments on “Law Enforcement in Black Rock City

  • srh says:

    So can we get more information on the law enforcement crackdown, BmOrg’s daily meetings with the LEOs, and what the current situation is?

    Are the newbs getting their kicks? Are the police retaliating? Are the feds on a mission? Is this just people get hysterical over nothing?

    Based on the current situation, many people are rethinking their attendance this year.

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  • Tweaks says:

    That all said, don’t you think they are going a little over the top this year. From reports they are looking for any excuse to hand out tickets and investigate personal space. You don’t see DUI check points on the exits or entrances of a football game. You don’t see drug sniffing dogs circling cars heading into concerts.

    I know these guys are here to protect us, but what they are exactly protecting us from. Can some of the regular cops give this newbies an orientation about what this place is, what it means to so many people, how it’s a healing place and not the drug rape fest some of the right wing press make it out to be.

    In the past I have had a great experiences with the cops. I have shared gifts, laughs, stories and even posed for pictures. Can we please have those LEO back, I liked them a lot.

    Maybe once they get an earful of the dubstep they’ll wanna leave.

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  • jin says:

    be safe out there, gents. in case you didn’t know, drunk sex is now considered statutory rape. and ‘drunk’ is more than 2 drinks in 3 hours. it doesn’t matter of you are also drunk, only she is raped in this scenario. even if she verbally consents to the sex, by law she cannot consent.

    if you have sex with a drunk woman on the playa, and she regrets it the next day, she can have you arrested. all she has to do is prove she had enough drinks to constitute being drunk during the sex (more than 2 in 3 hours prior to sex) and you better have a good lawyer. and you better know how many drinks she’s had while not in your presence, because those are counted also.

    don’t believe me? google it.

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  • r says:

    I had a sexual encounter with a police
    officer out there last year, he was off duty
    and it waaas wonderful, full real
    just thought I should say more cops could mean more fun for the gay

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  • r says:

    or any community, for that matter
    more people more fun

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  • D.D.D. says:

    Respect for police? No thank you, not as long as there is still room for radicals and anarchists at Burning Man, and there doesn’t seem to be much. I have as much respect for them as they have for my rights, which is to say none at all. Not when I’ve friends busted in illegal sting operations, not when they’re out there preying on us for quotas. I’ll have a message for them in the “law enforcement camp” given to them on the Esplanade but it won’t be “hi and thank you”.

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  • HK says:

    I can assure you that our safety is certainly NOT law enforcement’s main concern.
    You are naive if you believe it is.

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  • Fallen Pegasus says:

    (needs repeating, apparently)

    Do not consent to a search.

    Never, ever ever consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.” Even if you have nothing for them to find, ALWAYS say “I do not consent to a search.” Never consent to them searching your person, searching your car, or searching your tent. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s tent. They are trained to make you flustered and to take command of the situation. Or they can be “polite”: “Mind if we take a look around?” Yes, you mind. “I/we do not consent to a search.”

    They can ask the other people in your group, in your art car, in your car driving in, not just the driver or leader. “Mind if we look?” You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.”

    Leading them to your camp. Don’t.

    They may try to get you to lead them to your camp. They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it, they may say “We’re going to your camp.” They will make it sound as if you have no choice. You do have a choice, and you are going to choose to not to lead them to your camp. Never lead them to your camp.

    Seal your tent.

    Always zip your tent closed when you are not in it. If possible, use screens or sheets to block window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. You may want to use a luggage lock, and lock your tent when you are not in it. If your tent is zipped shut and locked, they need a warrant to open it, or they need your consent. They probably won’t have a warrant, and you are not going to give them your consent, remember?

    Name and ID.

    If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your name. If you have your ID on you, you have to show it to them if they ask. If you don’t have it on you, you don’t have to go get it for them, and you never ever should.

    If you are a non resident alien visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport on you.


    They can keep asking you questions. They can ask you were your camp is, and who you are camping with. They may try the “we’re just talking”, or “what do you think of XYZ”, or “can you help us out?” You do not have to answer those questions, and probably shouldn’t. Never ever answer questions about being altered, people you have seen altered, and what being altered may be like. And again, never tell them where your camp is.

    “Am I free to go?”

    The next magic phrase is: “Am I free to go?” Keep saying it. As soon as they say “yes”, leave immediately and without another word.

    If they write you a ticket, you take it, put it in your pocket, and then you say “Am I free to go?”

    If they say “no”, you say “Am I being arrested?”. If they say “no”, you say “Am I free to leave?” Iterate as necessary.

    If they say “yes”, you immediately say “I do not consent to a search. I invoke my right to remain silent. I want to speak to my attorney.” And then you shut the fuck up.

    Watching the watchmen.

    While the cop is dealing with you, you need to be memorizing his uniform color, his name and his badge number. As soon as you get away, immediately fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

    If you see a cop detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, get out your camera and start filming. If they tell you to turn it off, don’t. They cannot lawfully command you to stop photos, they may not ever order you to delete photos, and the may not ever delete a photo or video. Ever. If you ever see a cop try to order you or a fellow burner to delete a photo, make sure that goes on the Law Enforcement Feedback Form that everyone should turn in.

    While recording, never get in their way, and stay back 35 feet / 10 meters. That’s tazer range.

    What if I need “police services”?

    What if you are lost? Or a camp mate is lost? Or your kid is lost? Or you have found a lost kid? Or you have found a lost burner who is high out of his mind? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if there is a medical emergency?

    Go to a BRC RANGER, not a cop. The rangers will deal with it, and if the cops are actually needed, the BRC Rangers will deal with them.

    Know what the BRC Ranger uniform is, and how it’s different from the cops’ uniforms.

    Good luck out there!

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  • Obi says:

    Is a positive signal from a drug dog walking around your vehicle during a stop probable cause??

    If it is, it seems they can search anything they chose…Any advise? Its like swimming with sharks

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  • Stay says:

    I volunteered in Center Camp in 2009, and I saw with my own eyes, BLM Rangers in a full kit, with their hands on huge automated guns, walking in pairs. They were on patrol, but what are they trying to shoot for? Do they really need so many guns on their waists and a huge rifle in their arms too? Are they scared the hippies and ravers would bite them?

    On Burn night, we were out on adventures, completely sober. We stopped to rest, and soon after, a “couple” came and sat with us. They struck up conversation, but it was clear to us, they were cops under disguise, a male and female. The male was silent, the female did all the talking, but it was so obvious they were not there to burn. They had walkie talkies at their waists and guns too. They seemed to question us, trying to trick us or test us to find out if we were sober, asking questions like “where is your camp?” “Where are you from?” “How long did you drive from Seattle?” and this ridiculous one – “Did you drive North or South to get here?” WOW is all I can say.

    My buddy and I looked at each other, and then we signaled to leave. We said “Have a good burn” and left, feeling very disgusted by the heavy police presence there. At every major art installation, at every rave camp, at every big thing along the esplanade or in deep playa, there are COPS everywhere, in uniform and in disguise. We really felt “watched” and “preyed on” even though we didn’t get stopped or arrested. That awful feeling stays with me until now. It was worse in 2011 as well. I can honestly say, I’ve seen more cops in Burning Man than I have in my city in the default world.

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  • Mark Atwood says:

    Obi, a police dog is a “bypass the 4th amendment for free” card for cops. Thats why they love their dogs so much.

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  • Sachi Ivy says:

    If a police dog gets a ‘hit’ or reacts, they have the right to search your vehicle. I’m not sure about tents – that probably requires a warrant, regardless of the dog’s reaction. I’ve seen those dogs go totally apeshit over nothing, and there’s some proof that the dogs are keyed up by their handler’s reactions, so they react because they feed off that. One of the folks out there working right now had a dog get a hit on the handle of a drill that had been used by several people. Although there were clearly no drugs in or on the drill, that still gave them a right to search.
    I hate to say ‘don’t trust anyone,’ but certainly PAY ATTENTION and follow your instincts. I definitely got buzzed by a plainclothes officer on a bike – and even from a distance it was clear he was no Burner. Pale, ill-fitting clothes, VERY clean, undecorated bike, and a kid’s backpack in the bike basket (also totally clean). He sat and listened to us talking (about being sober Burners, LOL!) and then rode off. Most of them aren’t that obvious – so do be careful!

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  • alex says:

    Can the lawyer please re-record that in a quiet place? thanks

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  • Jaypay says:

    Perhaps we can take up a $ collection equal or greater than the amount of $ they make off of citations and arrests and just give it over to the state. Then create a Jail theme camp where burners would volunteer to be processed in a fun way, hopefully without it going on their records. Im sure most officers aren’t really “bad” people. They’re just following orders and deep down don’t really want to disrupt all the great energy on the playa. They’d rather be having a good time making their jobs a part of the burn. It’s the system that forces them into disrespecting our rights. Of course i know this is highly illegal. Bribing public officials, which happens all the time in Washington. Why not in BRC?

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  • tob says:

    Burners will never understand that they are fodder, offered up to LEOs by the Borg. Just one more profit center.

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  • Tpot says:

    Dear Burners,
    My friend was arrested on the Playa for a minor issue (contempt) and was thrown in jail. Some of things were confiscated including his ticket. If we have court documents to show what happened (minor infraction) and all his belongings (wallet, keys, car) are on the Playa can we renegotiate his re-entry? This is a really good guy, very active artsy participant of the Burning Man community, and we are fed up with Reno police right now. Thoughts? We’d love the gift of some advice or Burning Man contacts. Thanks, Tpot

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  • samm says:

    Tpot, go to gate staff, explain and have someone inside deliver the stuff to someone at the gate. What does contempt mean, what statute/law did he violate? Deputy or BLM? People usually arent arrested for minor infractions.

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  • mike says:

    why does the afterburn report take so long to come out? It takes 6 + months. How many arrests and citations were there in 2013?

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  • mpcAstro says:

    I saw Larry Harvey interviewed on the Charlie Rose show a half-hour ago. A lot of talk about non-commercialism, non-consumerism, being creative in/on a free and open space in an otherwise no-man’s land.

    So I thought, “What? The people sent the pigs packing finally? Maybe this year I will drive on out, walk around naked smoking spliffs in the open and become one with artistic, communal burning.” Every year I google to check out I’m snapped back to living in a global fascist reality with drug sniffing dogs and nazi nannies looking to make Brownie points with tickets and jailings for kicks.

    And I’m supposed to PAY for this experience. If you want to burn something down, how about the New Feudal Order? And I don’t me in effigy, Jim.

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  • jeez says:

    A message so important, the ACLU couldn’t find anywhere to film it except in a loud bar? Watched about ten seconds and didn’t bother with the rest.

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