While Burning Man is certainly a remote and freewheeling place, it’s also a functioning metropolis. And just like any other city, numerous law enforcement agencies patrol Black Rock City day and night.
Yes, not to toss cold water on anyone’s excitement, but this topic is important: all Federal, State and Local laws still exist at Burning Man, and any illegal action witnessed by law enforcement can lead to a citation or your arrest. 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.
In order to give you the best understanding of how law enforcement works at Burning Man, how to interact with a law enforcement officer, and how to protect your Constituional rights, professionals in the extended Burning Man community have generously provided the following information.
What Public Agencies Patrol the Event?
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. The Nevada Department of Investigations works with BLM to look for drug trafficking. Both agencies use undercover agents to patrol. Remember, illegal drugs are no more legal at Burning Man than they are anywhere else. If you choose to ignore this fact, you risk citations, arrest, court costs, lawyer fees, etc.
Nevada has some of the strictest drug trafficking laws in the country. Even gifting a small amount of illegal substance can be considered trafficking.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office will be in Black Rock City enforcing state and local laws. There is a new Sheriff for the first time since Burning Man has been in Pershing County, but the laws are still the same. So once again, remember that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcoholic beverages. If you are gifting drinks, please be sure to check the age of anyone who does not look 21. Ask for ID.
The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office can also be found close at hand, primarily patrolling the nearby town of Gerlach. They wear green uniforms, and are concerned mainly with keeping the traffic moving and ensuring that Burning Man participants respect local citizens’ privacy and property. Please be sure that all head and tail lights on your vehicle are working properly, your registration is up-to-date, and your license plate is clearly visible, to avoid an unscheduled stop on your way to the playa.
The Nevada State Health Division is also present. Their goal is to protect the health of our citizens and prevent food-borne epidemics, or other health hazards.
Specific Laws to be Aware of in 2011
We’ll say it again: 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. BLM DOES NOT RECOGNIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARDS. THE STATE OF NEVADA DOES NOT RECOGNIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARDS FROM OTHER STATES.
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, etc.. 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! 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.
NO UNDERAGE DRINKING. At Burning Man, we want you to let go of your inhibitions and feel fully free to discover and express yourself. We believe everyone is perfectly capable of reaching this level of freedom without the aid of any intoxicating substances (after all, what is more intoxicating than walking along the esplanade at night?), and even more strongly believe that all of the citizens of Black Rock City can experience all that Burning Man has to offer without breaking the law.
If you are running a bar or camp that gifts alcoholic beverages, please be sure to check identification of anyone that may look under 21, no matter how “burnery” they seem. If you are planning to drink, as in any city, town, or event, please carry your ID in a safe and secure location. If you are under 21, please feel free to explore and engage in all the magic and wonder that Black Rock City has to offer, as long as you do it according to the law, and alcohol-free.
Please Respect Law Enforcement – Especially If You’re Stopped for Questioning
How can you as a participant be prepared in the instance that you have an encounter with law enforcement at Burning Man?
First, it is very helpful to understand law enforcement’s concerns, rationales, and potential behaviors on playa and the situations you may encounter (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.
Second, you should remember that the playa is a place to fully express and be yourself. Please choose the behaviors you feel comfortable engaging in on playa before you arrive and become potentially swept away by the events of the moment.
Third, you need to look outside yourself and consider your campmates and traveling companions in your decisions. Do not let their choices and their behavior put you in legal jeopardy, and do not let yours endanger them.
Fourth, familiarize yourself with this year’s areas of concern for law enforcement (see above).
Finally, you could help the Burning Man Project improve every year by completing a Law Enforcement Feedback Form on playa this year (see below).
Many Burners find it useful to consider law enforcement officers who work the Burning Man event to be participants with differing agendas, differing levels of playa experience and differing levels of Burner acculturation. In the past, many (if not most) law enforcement officers were “playa experienced” and worked the event year after year. Many of them made it a personal choice to come to Burning Man and work the event. They looked forward to returning to the playa year after year and 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 to keep 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.
As many of you already know, 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, and 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 sliding down a giant wedge of astro-turf, 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.
Learn How to Interact with Law Enforcement & Protect Your Rights
Give Us Your Real-Time Feedback With a Law Enforcement Feedback Form
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 would like to hear about it. Each participant will receive a feedback form at the Greeter’s Station. They are also 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.
These reports are gathered by the Black Rock Rangers LEAL Team and are presented and discussed at the daily afternoon meeting with law enforcement. A 2:00 PM deadline ensures inclusion of the report in that day’s meeting. The purpose is to inform law enforcement of their observed behaviors and to hopefully shape those behaviors on playa.