2009 was a great year for the Black Rock Rangers. We expanded our training resources, streamlined and improved our administrative processes, and welcomed a near-record number of new volunteers to our department.
Leadership evolution brought incremental change in our organization’s structure and personnel. We added new positions on the Ranger Council, and additional Rangers stepped forward to fill roles on the Council and Ops Teams, and to join the teams and cadres that carry out Ranger operations at all levels. Developing a culture of rotating roles of service, with Rangers serving for a year or two and then mentoring another Ranger, avoids burnout and will give us a deep and seasoned pool of Rangers to call upon in time of need.
Growth and Acculturation
Rangers had another huge growth year in 2009, missing 2008’s all-time recruiting level by only nine new Rangers. This was actually a welcomed surprise, as we did not actively campaign for new volunteers like we did in 2008-this year they came to us! We will be looking to control our growth in 2010 to focus on “marinating” our fabulous new crop of recruits into seasoned veterans. We will devote time and attention to retention, acculturation, and continued training. Cross-pollination among Rangers who volunteer at Regionals and within other departments also supplements our acculturation process.
Every new Ranger from 2008 was individually contacted by phone to get feedback and convey our appreciation. Response from these discussions was overwhelmingly positive, and we believe contributed to retaining our great volunteer base. The Mentor Team carried on this feedback loop in 2009 over email and is using comments from 2009’s class of Rangers to improve their processes on-playa.
Much of the real work that makes our Department function is performed by tireless leaders and volunteers within our various Operations Teams. Here is a brief list of some of the accomplishments and structural changes involving our teams in 2009:
Set-up and Logistics: Our logistics crews get better every year, as we identify areas for improvement. Set-up was aided by extra time this year, which was much appreciated by our build crew, yet it was hindered by some miscommunication regarding site layout. Next year, Rangers will create a combined site plan for the Center Camp area with Ranger HQ and the main Medical tent, with input from both departments, to ensure adequate space for both operations. Site plans for the Ranger outposts at 3 and 9 will include placement of all additional elements supported by DPW.
Ranger Headquarters: HQ is a crucial resource for the entire department. It touches the life of every Ranger who hits the dirt. It’s where all shifts begin and end. If the HQ isn’t working well, the department isn’t working well. In 2009 significant work went into creation of an HQ procedures manual that documents the vital processes and logistical tasks that are required of the Ranger HQ Staff. Ranger HQ relies upon its internet connection to receive and respond to emergency message traffic, and in the past, we have shared that internet connection with the DMV. Since DMV ceases operations before the Rangers, we are exploring the possibility of operating our own connection, or at the very least, ensuring that the DMV connection remains operational for the duration of our own operation.
Mentors: The mentoring program is the Ranger department’s mechanism for evaluating new volunteers and ultimately deciding if they are a good match for the Rangers. Our mentors had a breakthrough year, streamlining administrative procedures to increase their ability to process large numbers of new volunteers. Looking to the future, since the Ranger department is relatively well-staffed, we expect that the bar for evaluating new volunteers will be raised even higher in 2010.
Training: The Black Rock Ranger Training Academy offered 22 trainings in 2009, in 2 countries and spanning 14 states and provinces. Many new “Trainers in Training” were brought on board and new content was developed, especially for returning Rangers. 2009 marked the start of an initiative that formalized advanced training courses for more experienced Rangers to drill down into specific topics germane to our mission. This year’s module concentrated on the role of the shift lead; based on the success of these advanced morning modules, future modules are being designed for 2010 and beyond.
Shift Leads: The shift leads are in charge of minute-by-minute operations for any particular shift. They serve as a resource for dirt Rangers and as a central point of communication between the Rangers and other departments. The skills required of a shift lead are greater than any one person can be expected to possess, and as a result, a shift is actually led by a small team of shift leads working in tandem. In an effort to share this workload, as well as to train future shift leads, the Shift Command Team created the role of Ranger Shift Command Intern. This pool of “shift-leads-in-training” are given on-the-job experience with the safety net of a more experienced shift lead at their wing. This program was a great success and we look forward to a bumper crop of skilled and capable shift leads as a result.
Rangers continue to play a vital role in ensuring the safety of all of those attending the burning of the Man. We are a thin, yet durable, membrane of khaki that insulates an enthusiastic and celebratory mob numbering in the tens of thousands from a 1600º inferno. Each of the Rangers that are charged with keeping this perimeter have been trained to use crowd control techniques that have been honed and perfected by the department over the years.
Building on suggestions made post-event last year, Rangers and DPW constructed a fence perimeter around the Man on Friday night, almost 24 hours before the burn. This display of interdepartmental cooperation was a great success, and the fence was up in about half an hour. The fence made it easier to effectively staff the perimeter with fewer Rangers during art load-out and pyro load-in, ensuring the safety of the work crews. This also made it easier to expand the crowd perimeter as needed for the main event on Burn Night.
While 2009’s burn was a safe and successful one, we are still searching for that elusive “perfect burn.” The 2009 structure in particular took a long time to burn, which taxed our resources-each minute that the structure remains standing makes it harder for the Rangers to contain the crowd and ensure their safety. Inter-departmental communication about expectations and resources for the night of the Burn are on-going as we work towards the perfect burn.
The LEAL Team (Law Enforcement and Agency Liaison Team)
(Note: LEAL is part of the Black Rock Rangers, the Playa Safety Council, and the Burning Man Political Sub-Committee.)
The Burning Man Project created a new sub-committee structure in 2009, forming a Political Sub-Committee. The LEAL Team Manager is a member of that sub-committee. The LEAL Team, as it operates on playa liaison-ing with law enforcement and working with law enforcement related political entities year round, remains a component of the Black Rock Rangers, with the LEAL Team Manager serving as a member of the Ranger Operations Team, as well as a member of the Playa Safety Council. In 2009 the LEAL Team, as well as several other representatives of the Burning Man Project, continued to work on strengthening relationships with outside Law Enforcement Agencies. Efforts were made to continue the candor in communications with law enforcement established in previous years.
There is one key component that serves to distill the importance of focusing upon law enforcement relationships, not only key law enforcement players, but also with the political entities they represent. It is the fact that federal Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) from the Bureau of Land Management and state LEOs from Pershing County continue to use the Black Rock Rangers as a first response mechanism in Black Rock City and in dealing with on playa situations. In some circumstances, the specialized LEAL Team may also be called to a scene by law enforcement. These are practices we both hope to preserve and continue to reinforce because the needs of our community are best served by Rangers as first response. The reason the aforementioned processes of preservation and reinforcement are important is due to the fact that Burning Man’s relationship(s) with law enforcement are not constant and predictable, but subject to sometimes significant variation on a year-to-year basis. The paragraphs below contain examples of these shifting realities from Burning Man 2009 and the months preceding.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Federal Law Enforcement
There were some positive changes in regards to BLM Law Enforcement. Over the winter months, the LEAL Team Manager met with the BLM Officer in Charge (OIC) and Deputy OIC to put together an agreement to focus on three identified areas of concern that the Burning Man community had in regards to BLM LEO behaviors on playa. To their credit, there was a marked improvement in the identified areas on playa in 2009. BLM LE should get credit for adhering to that agreement. In regards to shared communications, for the second year in a row, the LEAL Team Manager and the Ranger Operations Chief met with the BLM LEOs during their group training/orientation session on the Saturday before the event began.
On the negative side, we once again saw the return of larger numbers of BLM citations written by BLM law enforcement, as we had feared and predicted pre-event. Total citations were up +50.3% and “major” drug citations were up +86.3%. Non-drug citations were up 44.9%. All of this came with a decrease in Black Rock City (BRC) population (the 2009 population being significantly lower than the 2008 population). This proves, as we have shown statistically, that there is not a correlation between BRC population and the number of BLM LE citations written. In fact, analysis of an eight-year data set leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that BLM LE can choose to write as many citations as they wish in any given year regardless of the population. Our larger concern is that by BLM LE writing a larger number of citations, they could then direct this “fact” towards a self-fulfilling message that “since the number of citations is up, there must be a bigger problem in Black Rock City.”
Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) – State Law Enforcement
Pershing County is a rural Nevada county, has a small population, and has a total law enforcement force that is much smaller than the contingent of law enforcement that the PCSO seems compelled to have in Black Rock City. For the last several years, this problem has been addressed by having Washoe County off-duty LEOs working under contract for PCSO on playa. The state law enforcement Officer in Charge has, for all of these years, been a WCSO sergeant or lieutenant. Quoting from the 2008 LEAL Afterburn: “These relationships (with state law enforcement) are characterized by professionalism, timely and appropriate response and active and open communications.” The same cannot be said for Burning Man 2009..
PCSO decided this year to not contract with any WCSO LEOs. This created several significant problems. PCSO contracted with 40 to 50 different individual LEOs, who came mostly from other rural jurisdictions within the state of Nevada. These contract LEOs were bereft of experience in working the very unique environment of Black Rock City, they had no event-specific training before they arrived on playa, they received almost no event-specific training when they arrived on playa, and they usually only worked a day or two before being replaced by another inexperienced LEO. As might be expected, numerous problems arose in regards to understanding the dynamic aspects of the Burning Man event, communicating with Black Rock City citizens, and utilizing (or not utilizing) the extensive Burning Man infrastructure elements in place to assist law enforcement such as the Black Rock Rangers, the LEAL Team, the Emergency Services Department, the Burning Man dispatch and communications systems, etc. However, that was not the worst of it.
The PCSO LEO team arrived on playa with what appeared to be a rather specific agenda. This agenda seemed to be fueled by their sense of morality and personal values, and they seemed intent upon imposing that set of values and moral judgments on the Burning Man community and the citizens of Black Rock City. The specific incidences and issues will not be listed here, but it can be reported that the moral code they chose to impose was characterized by behaviors that could be described as consistent and by an attitude that could be characterized as fervent and zealous.
Other External Entities and the Burning Man Community
The ACLU was very active on playa this year, with a booth at Playa Info that they staffed. ACLU representatives also attended the Daily Agency Meetings at 3:15 each day. Lawyers for Burners (LFB) was also active on playa observing LE behaviors. LFB has also been very active and very successful over the winter so far, getting a number of state LE and BLM LE citations dismissed in the court system. LFB continues to encourage Burners to fight unlawful/inappropriate/unjustified BLM citations in Federal Court in Reno and PCSO citations in the state courts.
Finally, a concerted effort was made by the whole Burning Man community to maximize use of Burning Man’s Law Enforcement Feedback Forms. This program worked quite successfully on playa in 2009. The number of LE Feedback reports turned in was up; but, more importantly, the quality of the reports was also up. As a result, the Burning Man Legal Department, the Burning Man Political Sub-Committee, and the LEAL Team got better data, got more accurate reporting, and in a couple of particularly difficult/bothersome cases, got multiple/reinforcing reports.
Duane Hoover, Jori Hayner, K8 and Scoutmaster