Jrs V12 I25


Burning Man Update: The Jack Rabbit Speaks
August 18, 2008

Greetings from Black Rock City! Ray Allen, the Burning Man Project’s legal affairs manager, has compiled all the great information about law enforcement at Burning Man in this special JRS edition … and you really should read this … it’s very important. And with that, here’s Ray:

“This is a special edition of the JRS dedicated to law enforcement at Burning Man. The Burning Man Project has always welcomed law enforcement in Black Rock City. Indeed, the Project is grateful for law enforcement’s function because the event could not operate without the law enforcement officers who patrol our metropolis. Furthermore, the Project appreciates law enforcement’s concerns and difficulties in keeping Black Rock City safe.

Hopefully the information below will answer all of your questions about law enforcement at Burning Man – questions such as: What law enforcement agencies patrol the event? How do the Black Rock Rangers differ from law enforcement? What is the LEAL team? Are there new laws this year to be aware of? What should I do if I am stopped by law enforcement for questioning in Black Rock City? How can I give feedback about law enforcement interactions? What was the outcome of the cases that Lawyers for Burners took on? What is LOOP? Read on … all these questions and more are answered below.”

Good stuff, Ray … thank you.

12 days ’til the Man burns. tick tick tick.

(Associate Rabbit)

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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. Investigative BLM agents work undercover and dress like any other Burning Man participant. BLM Rangers and Agents are primarily concerned with violations of federal laws.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office also patrols Black Rock City, and is supported by officers from other counties. They usually wear gray/ light blue short-sleeved polo shirts. Their primary task is enforcing state and local laws within Black Rock City. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office primarily patrols the nearby town of Gerlach. They wear green uniforms, and they are concerned mainly with keeping the traffic moving and ensuring that Burning Man participants respect local citizens’ privacy and property.

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



The Black Rock Rangers are Burning Man participants who volunteer time and effort as non-confrontational community mediators. Responding to the continuously evolving nature of the event, Rangers address situations within the community that would otherwise require outside intervention. By encouraging and facilitating communication, the Rangers promote awareness of potential hazards, from sunstroke to tent fires.

LEAL is an acronym for Law Enforcement Agency Liaison. The LEAL Team is comprised of volunteer Black Rock Rangers who are specifically trained to interact with law enforcement on the playa. They don’t directly deal with violations of the law, but they are available to help bridge the gap between our ethos and culture, and the duties and responsibilities of law enforcement officers working on the playa. One or more representatives of this team will be on duty around the clock during the event. They often wear some item of zebra print clothing, along with their Ranger shirts, to help identify them. You can contact a LEAL team member by asking at Ranger Headquarters in Center Camp, or asking any Black Rock Ranger you see to radio for their assistance.

It is important to remember that Black Rock Rangers (including LEAL team members) are not law enforcement personnel. They are members of the Burning Man community, just like you. You can identify them by their khaki-colored attire, featuring the familiar Burning Man logo in brown on their backs and chests. You should feel free to request their assistance at any time.



It is important to remember that without law enforcement in Black Rock City there would be no Burning Man event. BLM would not permit the event on federal lands. Also, the State of Nevada would not allow such a large assembly without enforcement of state laws. Furthermore, the Burning Man Project would not even consider holding such a large- scale event without law enforcement’s expertise and assistance.

So, what can you as a participant do to prepare in case you have an encounter with law enforcement at Burning Man?

First, you are well served by fully understanding law enforcement’s concerns, rationales, and potential behaviors on playa and the situations this can produce (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. (The Survival Guide has been mailed out to all ticket holders, and is available on Burningman.com at http://tinyurl.com/7wrzo )

Second, you should look within yourself, and choose the behaviors you will engage in on playa before you arrive on playa and become potentially swept away by the events of the moment. Third, you need to look beyond yourself and include your campmates and playa traveling companions in your mix. Do not let their choices and their behavior put you in legal jeopardy.

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

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

Many Burners find it useful to look at the law enforcement officers who work the Burning Man event as participants with differing agendas, differing levels of playa experience and differing levels of Burner “sophistication”. For many years in the past many (if not most) law enforcement officers were “playa experienced” and worked the event year after year. Many of them, like many Burners, were Burning Man volunteers (of a sort) and worked the event by choice. They looked forward to returning to the playa year after year and many of them 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 on 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.

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, 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 passing out rubber chickens, 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.

J. Duane Hoover
Law Enforcement & Agency Liaison (LEAL) Team Manager
Black Rock Rangers
The Burning Man Project



It is important to remember that all Federal, State and Local laws still exist at Burning Man. THE USE AND TRAFFICKING OF ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES IS PROHIBITED.

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. 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! The definition of speeding is a dust plume that exceeds the height of the vehicle. 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.

For more information see:

BLM’s 2008 Burning Man Temporary Closure Order http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/wfo.html

Burning Man 2008 Survival Guide http://tinyurl.com/7wrzo



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 wants to know about it. We’ll have Law Enforcement Feedback Forms 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.

Please try to provide accurate information about the date, time, and location of any incidents, as much detail as you can provide about the officer(s) involved and a clear account of what you saw and heard. We need badge numbers, law enforcement vehicle license plate numbers, an accurate description of the officer’s agency affiliation, their uniform description and their vehicle description. The facts of the interaction need to be presented as clearly as possible in order for the report to be of maximum utility. Names and contact information for any additional witnesses are also helpful.

These reports are gathered by the Black Rock Rangers LEAL Team (see above) and are presented and discussed at the daily afternoon meeting with law enforcement. A 2:00 PM deadline insures inclusion of the report in that day’s meeting. The object is to inform law enforcement of their observed behaviors and to hopefully shape those behaviors on playa. Important note: Burning Man recognizes that negative feedback can arise as a natural consequence of unfolding events. However, positive Law Enforcement Feedback Form reports are also important. Law enforcement often performs valuable community services at Burning Man, and these acts also need to be recognized so that they can be reinforced and encouraged. If you’d like to make a report in person, ask to speak to a member of the LEAL team.



The Law Officer Oversight Project (LOOP) is a grassroots effort being organized by volunteers, who are independent from the Burning Man Project. The efforts of this group have come about because some concerned citizens perceive an increase in the presence of law enforcement in Black Rock City. Some believe there is a corresponding increase in reports of unconstitutional searches and arrests and other forms of uncomfortable law enforcement encounters. LOOP’s goal is to help keep a harmonious balance between curbing illegal activity and respecting people’s civil rights through monitoring law enforcement (without interfering), and educating participants about their legal rights.

LOOP Station will be located in Center Camp, and will act as a clearinghouse for information about your legal rights. LOOP will be handing out cards with information on how to exercise your legal rights if you are stopped for questioning. Also, there will be the “Fruit LOOP” lecture series, which are breakfast seminars about your individual rights. Come by for a bowl of fruit loops and walk away with more information about your civil rights. If you or someone you know has been issued a citation or arrested, then after you fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form, stop by LOOP to learn what your legal rights are.

LOOP is looking for volunteers to help with the project. If you are interested, please send a quick note of how you would like to help and a resume or a bit more about who you are to: LOOP2008 (at) mac (dot) com. Know your rights, LOOP loves you.



As background, Lawyers for Burners (LFB) formed, in the fall of 2007, as an independent organization, separate from the Burning Man Project, to provide participants with legal resources to address the perceived increase in law enforcement interactions in Black Rock City in 2007. As reported, the BLM issued 331 federal citations on the playa in 2007 compared to 155 in 2006. The total number of participants who were issued verbal warnings also grew as well. By many accounts, law enforcement’s presence was perceived as much greater in 2007.

In October 2007, LFB began asking the Burning Man community to report personal encounters with law enforcement. The team communicated with over 50 participants, and began to collect their stories.

As LFB worked with participants, they discovered that many received tickets for offenses like “open container” and “speeding.” LFB discovered that some law enforcement agencies may not have followed their own notice requirements and that the federal court would, in those circumstances, dismiss the charges. Ultimately the Court did dismiss citations when participants challenged them in court. Many others simply pled guilty to the offense and paid the citation by mail.

After collecting participant information, LFB formulated an approach to assist participants by matching them with lawyers who agreed to assist in the U.S. District Court in Reno, NV. Those lawyers either worked for free or for substantially reduced rates. The team also launched a successful fundraising campaign over the Internet to raise money to cover court costs and travel expenses. LFB never charged any of its clients for its work.

Throughout late 2007 and early 2008, LFB met with clients and potential clients at four separate arraignment dates. A team of talented Nevada lawyers assisted the team toward the goal to aid any participant who received citations from law enforcement with resources and in some cases, LFB signed on as counsel of record and defended participants against charges brought by the Federal Government.

At a Nov. 15, 2007 arraignment date, all of the participants — more than 20 — challenged their citations. Every single participant there, who received a citation, stood up and pleaded not guilty and asked for a trial date. The Court set trials for the months of December 2007 through April 2008.

When an officer detains a citizen, which results in the issuance of a citation, that officer must complete a short statement that details the officer’s probable cause. The officer makes this statement under “penalty of perjury.” If the stop and search was illegal, anything the officer finds cannot be used as evidence of a crime.

LFB presented the defenses to the United States Attorney for Nevada, and in several cases, presented motions to suppress evidence unlawfully seized to the U.S. Magistrate Judge. To its credit, the United States Attorney’s office in Reno listened to the concerns about the circumstances of several citations. The United States Attorney decided not to prosecute several cases. In other cases, the Government’s lawyer agreed to charge some participants with a lesser offense such as “littering,” and agreed to reduce the fine by half.

Overall, LFB was able to communicate with 54 participants who received citations in 2007. The team tried to reach more participants, but the Court changed its procedures after the first arraignment and stopped publishing the court docket. Thus, LFB could only help participants who contacted them based on Internet postings or who walked up at one of the arraignments. Of those with whom the team communicated, 31 participants were represented. Of those 30, all but one, had their charge dismissed or reduced by the Court or by the United States Attorney.

While pleased overall with the efforts and results, and grateful to everyone who donated time and/or money to LFB, the team realized the potential of a long-term ongoing project. The issue of examining and evaluating interactions with law enforcement go beyond these that end in citations. LFB would like to hear about all citations and interactions from 2007 and are now committed to the same support for 2008.

In preparation for the 2008 Event, LFB is working with the Burning Man Project on improving the collection of information from participants who encounter law enforcement on the Playa. Outreach and education efforts will be expanded to inform participants about how one should respond when stopped by law enforcement on the Playa. Offers of assistance and volunteerism are welcome as the team prepares for the 2008 Event. LFB is grateful to everyone for their support and encouragement.

David S. Levin david (at) levinlawfirm (dot) com
Lawyers for Burners



We know it’s almost time for the 2008 Burning Man event, but the Project still wants your feedback from last year. Did you have any interaction with law enforcement in 2007 at Burning Man? Was it a positive experience? Did you learn something new about the Black Rock Desert? Did you have a negative experience? (Please note, receiving a ticket for engaging in illegal activity in plain view is not really what we mean by “negative” experience.) Do you feel that you were harassed or illegally searched? Did you interact with a BLM Ranger, a Pershing County Deputy or another agency? Whether you were cited or not, particularly if you were NOT cited, we want your feedback.

The Burning Man Project is coordinating with Lawyers for Burners (LFB), a self-organized community group, to evaluate interactions with all our law enforcement agencies last year. Please go to http://www.lawyersforburners.com , click on “Burners” and then fill out the intake form. Please note that any info you report on this website will be subject to attorney- client privilege, meaning that the information will be held in confidence by LFB. (Please also note that submitting information does not mean that LFB is automatically your lawyer. This is just the preliminary phase of collecting information. However, if you feel that you would like to legally redress your situation then LFB can counsel you on your options.) A summary of the interactions (not including confidential attorney-client privileged information) will be shared with the Burning Man Project.



The Burning Man Project is looking for knowledgeable professionals who wish to offer their skills and experience to help improve Burning Man’s safety infrastructure. If you are a lawyer, paralegal, security guard, retired judge, retired police officer, and feel that you have the time and expertise to dedicate either on-playa or year-round then please send a note to legal (at) burningman (dot) com. Burning Man was created with volunteers. The Man wants you!



BLM’s 2008 Burning Man Temporary Closure Order:

Burning Man Survival Guide, on Burningman.com at:
http://tinyurl.com/7wrzo The Survival Guide lists all of the illegal activities on playa, and tells you how to conduct yourself if you are stopped for questioning.

Know Your Rights: The ACLU publishes a guide on What To Do If You’re Stopped by Police on the ACLU website at:

Know Your Rights Videos: Flex Your Rights offers free videos online on how to behave if stopped by law enforcement on their website at:


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