Law Enforcement and the LEAL Team (Law Enforcement and Agency Liaison)

The LEAL Team was a new concept, first implemented and “playa tested”; at Burning Man 2002. For a first year effort, we feel that the LEAL Team was a considerable success, meeting or exceeding almost all of its first year goals and general objectives. These goals included: 1) establishing communication and rapport with the multi-agency consortium of Law Enforcement and Agency personnel involved in administering and managing the Burning Man event, and, 2) working with said Law Enforcement and Agency personnel to attain the best possible alignment between the needs of the Burning Man Project and the citizens of Black Rock City. Goal number two included encouraging mediated dispute resolution as opposed to law enforcement actions seen as detrimental to Black Rock City citizens.

In general, Law Enforcement softened their approach towards administering Burning Man 2002 as opposed to prior years. An exception to this was a heightened interest by some officers relative to drug-related incidents, including possession of illegal substances and the paraphernalia associated with drug use (even if no drugs were present). With all of that, communication was at an all time high with Law Enforcement (LE) not only in quantity, but also in quality. The result was an observation and a tentative and qualified conclusion that there was an increase in the alignment between LE and Agency concerns and the goals and philosophies of Burning Man. While a great deal of progress was made in this regard in 2002, we are realistically optimistic that even more progress can be made at Burning Man 2003.

We kept a LEAL Logbook, with entries documenting significant incidents and interventions. Calling ourselves “Zebra”; on the radio comm. helped to differentiate the LEAL function, as well as allowing our LEAL Team members better communication. Although we monitored both the Ranger and Emergency Services (911) radio channels, we primarily relied upon the Ranger collective to act as “eyes and ears”; relative to potential and evolving events. When we had Zebra specific “chatter”, we were able to go to tactical channels on our multi-channel radios. This allowed us to not only stay in touch with Ranger Operations and Emergency Services, but also to conduct our own LEAL specific discussions without cluttering up the other Ranger channels. We also found it very useful to have pagers on playa. This was important for communication when we were in areas that were noisy or when we were conducing business such as the Daily Agency Meeting.

A Daily Agency Meeting, chaired by the LEAL Team Manager, was held every day, including the Monday post event. These meetings served the purpose of: 1) coordinating LE and Agency activities, 2) serving as a mechanism to detect, broach, and deal with evolving issues or matters of concern in real time (Note: playa time is so compressed and events unfold so rapidly, that there is no luxury of tabling discussions to later meetings), and, 3) functioning as a two-way channel of communication — allowing LE and Agency concerns to be communicated to Burning Man as well as Burning Man concerns being communicated and shared in a timely fashion with the appropriate LE and Agency personnel.

It is important to note that we were most effective in those circumstances where we were able to get early involvement. It is easier to prevent the escalation of a potential emotional situation than it is to cool one down after it has come into full flower. This process of de-escalation, for the members of the LEAL Team, involve working with both Black Rock City citizens and members of Law Enforcement. It is important for us to remember that LE officers are human too, and that their feelings and behavioral predispositions must also be factored into what we Zebras call “total scene management”;.

The LEAL Team is part of the Rangers, and falls under the Ranger umbrella as a natural extension of our concerns, on and off playa, for that which most benefits Burning Man. Having said that, we must also admit that one of the problems that we had on playa this year involved coordinating and communicating with Ranger Operations. This is not surprising, in that we anticipated potential problems in this area as natural growing pains attendant to establishing a new and differentiated function literally growing out of the Rangers (much as Emergency Services and the Gate evolved before). This is still, however, an area where we need to continue to develop clearer role definitions and operational clarity.

We are confident as we move ahead with the LEAL concept and the Zebra Team on playa, that we can continue to improve on our mission effectiveness, serving both the community of Burning Man and the vital protective and administrative services afforded by the Law Enforcement and Agency entities that afford us the opportunity to gather each year on our beloved playa.

Submitted by,
Duane Hoover

There was no Law Enforcement article for 2001 to link to