Law Enforcement Agency Liaison

The Black Rock Rangers, the LEAL Team, and the Burning Man Project continued to work on strengthening the relationship with outside Law Enforcement Agencies throughout the winter of 2008. Attempts were made to build on the candor in communications established in previous years. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) from BLM and Pershing County continue to use the Black Rock Rangers as a first response mechanism; this is a practice we hope to reinforce and preserve. It should be noted that we continue to have high quality and valued relationships with Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada Highway Patrol and Tribal Police. These relationships are characterized by professionalism, timely and appropriate response, and active and open communications.

However, after the highest number of citations ever issued (an unprecedented increase out of proportion with the increase in population) by BLM for our event in 2007, and based on a number of documented negative interactions with BLM law enforcement that occurred on playa in 2007, we entered into the winter meetings with a high level of tension between BLM law enforcement and Burning Man. While some preliminary meetings did go smoothly and the stipulation negotiations were productive, a level of tension remained that resulted in a BLM Federal Mediator facilitating a meeting between key BLM and Burning Man personnel in July of 2008 for the purpose of addressing Burning Man’s concerns about BLM law enforcement behavior on playa. While this meeting did put a number of key issues into a discussion, no meaningful resolutions were achieved. As a result, we entered the 2008 event with many elements of concern that were unchanged from the previous year.

In addition, fueled by their dissatisfaction with what had transpired in 2007, members of the Burning Man community reacted by forming new organizations to combat what they felt was unfair treatment of participants. Lawyers for Burners was organized after the 2007 event by volunteer lawyers dedicated to fighting BLM citations in the Reno Federal Courts. Lawyers for Burners also had a presence on playa at Burning Man 2008, as did a group of self-organizing citizens calling themselves LOOP (Law Officer Oversight Program) whose intention was to brings accountability and oversight of law enforcement on behalf of individual rights. Furthermore, several lawyers representing the ACLU showed up on playa for Burning Man 2008 to observe BLM law enforcement activities.

A Law Enforcement Feedback Form was designed by the Burning Man Project to collect timely and specific feedback from the citizens of Black Rock City about their interactions with law enforcement and LEOs on playa. Over 80 of these Law Enforcement Feedback Forms were turned in by Burning Man participants regarding the 2008 event. While there were a number of reports of positive interactions, there were more negative interactions reported than positive. These negative reports were troubling because they described many of the behaviors we had expressed concerns about not only in our various discussions and meetings with BLM law enforcement, but very specifically in our facilitated meeting with BLM personnel in Reno in July of 2008.

These lingering concerns aside, there were some positive elements regarding BLM law enforcement at Burning Man 2008. The Black Rock Ranger Manager and the LEAL Team Manager were invited to make an orientation presentation at the BLM LEO event pre-briefing meeting. Interactions with Black Rock Rangers, LEAL Team members and members of ACLU and Lawyers for Burners were cordial and professional. The number of BLM citations was down significantly from 2007’s levels, and the ratio of warnings to citations issued swung in the direction of more warnings.

Nevertheless, a concern remains, expressed both by Burning Man staff members and the Burning Man community, that BLM law enforcement behaviors, both in pattern of behavior and in behavioral acts, negatively impacts the quality of life and event participation of the citizens of Black Rock City. We will continue to address these issues as we prepare for the 2009 event.




In 2008, the Rangers conducted a major re-organization of our department leadership structure. The 2008 Ranger Council, which makes policy decisions for our department on a consensus basis, is now comprised of an On Playa Operations Manager, a Logistics Manager, a Communications Manager, a Personnel Manager, two additional Personnel Team members, and a special advisor. The Ops Team is comprised of the Council members, plus a representative of each team/function within our department. Many teams were represented by new volunteers in 2008.

Training and Mentoring

This year the Training team, with input from other groups in our department, completed a significant re-writing and editing process for both the Ranger Training Guide and the Ranger Manual. The changes were very well received, and additional input will be used for further fine-tuning this year.

In 2008, we mapped the (real world) geographic distribution of our Rangers to help us identify new locations for pre-event trainings. We doubled the number of Black Rock Ranger trainings, and offered them in more places than ever before, including Arizona (Toast), Santa Cruz CA, Sacramento CA, Texas (Flipside), San Francisco (BMHQ), New York City, Utah (Element 11), Colorado (Apogaea), Landers CA (Integratron), Washington (Critical Massive), Oregon (Soak), Los Angeles CA, North Carolina (Transformus), Chicago IL, Boston MA, Toronto, and during the event in Black Rock City.

In addition to attending an eight hour training, all new Rangers must successfully complete a mentor shift. Offering more opportunities to attend training, in conjunction with a concerted effort to encourage our returning volunteers to identify potential new Rangers, yielded the largest group of new recruits ever! We increased the number of Mentors from 17 in 2007 to 35 in 2008 to handle the influx without compromising our ability to individually evaluate each candidate.

Retention and acculturation of this large class of new Rangers will be key areas of focus for our department in the next few years.


In order to ensure that all Rangers got relevant news, without requiring that they monitor our high- traffic general-use email list, we reactivated the Rangers-Announce email list. This list was used to provide updates from Council and Ops Team meetings, reminders about training dates, and key information on other issues relevant to Rangers preparing to volunteer on the playa. We also created a Ranger-New-Volunteers-Announce list to provide messages tailored to our large class of new recruits. We plan to continue to use both lists for 2009, and would also like to develop a means of providing easy access to archived messages from earlier in the year.

Volunteer Appreciation and Support

In 2008 we took steps to ensure that our volunteers were fed and provided with a climate-controlled environment to sleep before/after shift. This particularly benefited those who provided much-needed support on graveyard shifts. Also, in response to feedback received in previous years, Ranger shifts were scheduled to be six hours in length for the duration of the event.

On-Playa Operations

The location of Ranger Headquarters changed from a position near 4:30 on the Center Camp Circle to one on its outer edge, facing the open playa. This provided more visibility to participants and staff, and also helped eliminate issues with moving vehicles through Center Camp. Additionally, our new LED sign made us visible at night from the open playa.

Given the size of the event, having vehicle-mobile Rangers is essential in certain situations. This year our vehicle fleet was based on pickup trucks and gator-type vehicles, which proved much more reliable than the golf carts used in previous years.

The Ranger Intercept team continues to focus on vehicle safety issues. Overall, the Mutant Vehicle community increasingly supports our community standards against speeding and dangerous driving. Unmarked law enforcement vehicles were an issue at times because of the Ranger resources required to stop and talk with them (to determine if they were indeed official vehicles), and they encourage driving by regular participants who see what they assume are ordinary cars.

Shift leads made a number of changes to their logging process to better support our mission at the event. These changes improved the consistency, retention, and usability of our logs and reports, which form a record of the Ranger Department’s activities during the event. Proper management and handling of the logs, including security of the original documents, are important considerations in liability management for the event. In the future, we could benefit from more increased standardization of our logging. The shift leads were also proactive in 2008 about growing their team in response to the changing scope and size of Black Rock City.

Lessons From Burn Day

Weather conditions on Saturday of the 2008 event created significant challenges. While many participants were able to hunker down out of the wind, Rangers were working in the white-out to keep the city and the Man site safe. Because the Man was being loaded with pyrotechnics when the storm hit, a safety perimeter had to be maintained during the entire time the storm howled.

The Ranger shift command team has a number of recommendations for future years. These include the idea of creating an altar or other designated place for participants to leave objects that they wish to be burned with the Man. The team loading pyro into the Man should have their own dedicated radio channel. Physical markers, such as the obelisks used in 2008, should be constructed at the minimum distance from the structure required to maintain a safety perimeter, and additional materials such as trash fence should be available to create a physical barrier in low/no visibility conditions.

Submitted by,
Jori Hayner and Duane Hoover