Law Enforcement’s Comin’ To Town

[Editor’s Note: John Curley is one of our best and most respected bloggers, however his original story didn’t include important details that give a more complete perspective of law enforcement onsite. The Burning Blog editorial staff will always reserve the right to expand a story to provide a deeper understanding. We have made these edits with John’s permission.]

Law enforcement arrived in a very visible way
Law enforcement arrived in a very visible way

The Man is not the only Man who arrived on the playa yesterday.

The other arrival we’re talking about is that other Man, the police, aka law enforcement officials, who have joined us in town and made their presence clear.

At least two people onsite for setup were cited for peeing on the playa (which carries a $275 fine, plus the threat that the offense could, at the officer’s discretion, be elevated into an indecent exposure rap, which would make you a sex offender and really make a mess of your record). Burning Man supports the event being all ages, and it’s important we keep that in mind even pre-event when it might look like there’s no one there to see you pee.

There were also citations for speeding, although the incidents reveal there seemed to be confusion about the current speed limit in Black Rock City. Burning Man staff (via the event stipulations) have agreed on a pre-event limit of 10 mph, but it’s possible the citations were given for exceeding 5 mph. In addition, art cars were being cited for not having valid current registrations. Organizers are working with BLM to clarify the enforceable speed limit, as pre-event rules are different from “show time”. There are also accommodations made for event vehicles and their registration status off-road. All incidents are being reviewed in Burning Man’s daily meetings with law enforcement officials.

There are new officers on site each year, and they have the jurisdiction to enforce the laws as they see fit. However, the organization works with the BLM year-round to give them a sense of our culture, and how things work during setup and then during the event itself.

Charlie Dolman, Burning Man’s new Director of Event Operations reminded the DPW at a recent morning meeting that the organization is set up to “have your back”, but that doesn’t mean if you’re actually in violation of the law. Anyone who is issued a citation they are uncertain about is encouraged to bring it and your questions to the organization or the BLM sub-station in Center Camp. The Burning Man staff works throughout the year to create a collaborative working relationship with law enforcement, and to help with that, participants are encouraged to report both positive and negative interactions with law enforcement by filling out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger HQ.

But it’s clear that law enforcement wants you to know that they are here, and they are enforcing laws strictly. Drivers are being told to have a driver’s license on them at all times (this shouldn’t come as any surprise). Though there haven’t been any DUI citations it’s obvious those will happen if there’s anyone driving under the influence. So, the message is, handle yourself well, but be prepared to be pulled over for infractions that draw attention.

A police dog was used to search "The Gypsy Queen" on the way in to Black Rock City
A police dog was used to search “The Gypsy Queen” on the way in to Black Rock City

As evidence of what happens when your infraction is more than obvious, BLM pulled over the “Gypsy Queen” mutant vehicle for an obstructed license plate as she entered Black Rock City.  A K-9 unit was used to sniff the accompanying van, and the when the dog got a “hit,” officers searched both vehicles.

However, all ended well. “They got a hit on a drill handle,” the owner said. “I told them that it was used by a bunch of people.” Although he was very obviously unhappy with the search, he said that the officers had been “cool.” And, there was nothing out of alignment except the obstructed plate.

The Burning Man organization works year round to maintain a strong working relationship with law enforcement. They have a right to be here and there is no way we could do the event without them and the important work they do to maintain order and enforce state, local and federal laws. There aren’t any laws that can be ignored.

So, do your part and obey the law. Each year we hear stories of how someone was pulled over and the ensuing painful experience. Most of the time the initial infraction was a tail light out, seat belt not used, speeding, riding on the top of a vehicle.  Be safe, use common sense and follow the rules of the road — just as you would in any other city.

And, if your experience needs to be reviewed by the organization for our daily meetings with BLM please come to the Ranger station in Center Camp and fill out a LE Feedback form. We can’t advocate for your situation — nor can we explain to you what laws you broke and why it’s enforceable — if we don’t have a conversation with you about it. Trusting internet hype that there’s a strong police presence, and not being cognizant of all the variables is irresponsible. Be Self Reliant.


[Note: It was erroneously reported on Boing Boing that BRC won a lawsuit against BLM this year and that BLM may be retaliating by writing more citations in Black Rock City.  For the record, BRC was not in a lawsuit with BLM this year.  There is an ongoing lawsuit with Pershing County.  More information about that can be found at  The information about retaliation is unfounded.]

93 thoughts on “Law Enforcement’s Comin’ To Town

  • Hey, Disneyland’s parking lot/drive in is not typically filled with police looking for any reason to pull people over and do a dog search. It’s far preferable.

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  • @B Obvious If what you want is a sanitized event resembling Disneyland then I suggest you go there and wait a few years while BM morphs into its antithesis.

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  • Suicide, the only thing you can take away from this is “Don’t attend”. Anything can happen in a situation like this, regardless of how law abiding you think you are or are trying to be.

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  • Your attendance or not will not change the law. As above, we need to fill out our law enforcement report forms, report searches to the ACLU, and challenge invasive laws when we are at home.

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  • So sad. I truly believe the event could be run without 85% of the LE, and that the BRR is pretty much a great alternative form of self-discipline. The event SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY UNDERCOVERS AT ALL.

    I think it’s indicative of society at large, specifically in the US, that law enforcement is over-reaching it’s own boundaries and checks. It is a vision of a fascist future that we are trying to combat.

    I also think it’s pretty ironic that an event which fosters and promotes freedom of consciousness and the destruction of boundaries (and has strong anti-authoritarian roots) has basically become a fucking stasi police state. That may be an exaggeration, but I see no public denouncing of the LE by BMorg, something I think they should be fighting tooth and nail. LE agencies are abusing their privileges of authority and earning my fully vocal disrespect. LE agencies are accelerating the evolution of the event in a way that is unhealthy, in a direction that no participant should want it to go. It’s too bad I haven’t gone for as long as many of you, because I truly feel like it has been something very special to me, but I am not sure how long that will last.

    BM has been very resilient to change in the past, under what I consider to be very good (although sometimes divided, and sometimes driven by questionable motives) leadership during a period of massive expansion. I believe it will continue to be something special to me in the future. But there is a change coming, we are in the beginning of a forced evolution.

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  • apropos

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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  • Crissa, this is only tenuously related to whether the BLM is enforcing good laws or bad laws, or whether they’re even doing it by the book. The point is, the BLM is effectively harassing attendees by flooding the area with cops without valid justification. And if what I’m hearing is correct, it’s retaliatory. That is not permissible.

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  • I’ve watched BLM Rangers follow, stop, cite and search vehicles all day, just after the Greeters station. They’re stopping as many vehicles as their capacity allows. Reasons you will get stopped: broken taillights or headlights, non-functioning license plate light, no front license plates, obscured license plates (yes, even by bikes), expired registration tags, and speeding (even 1mph over). Make sure ALL of these things are taken care of, or they will most likely stop you. And they WILL try to search your vehicle with dogs. You have the right to refuse a search. Learn how and exercise that right. Always be polite.

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  • I found law enforcement has been good about public nudity. If there is a chance you can be seen from the highway, or your’e one of the first volunteers (gatekeeper) that can possibly surprise someone that has taken the wrong turn, they ask if you can cover up until you are further in thecity. Peeing on the playa, when you can pee in a cup, drive to a port a potty (you can still get around, the city is not open yet) is just unnacceptable making it a bigger deal than what it is.. I for one personally hate waking up the next morning to see what can only be a ton of pee spots on the playa the next morning. Alot of people are practically barefoot. Yes I pee in the big outdoors too, but not in public. I don’t need an audience, I’m prepared to know where the port of potties are in case of drinking, red cups are my friend and I respect those around me.
    Misdimeanors don’t just happen at burning man because you are at burning man ……they are doing the same in Vegas with football personalities peeing in public , homeless doing it downtown, etc. Hmmmm, guess they are just doing their job.
    As for pulling people over as soon as they arrive, it you give them a small reason, that’s your problem. Get it fixed before you arrive. There have been problems with more people arriving in the past than tickets being sold. How do you think this happens? People volunteering early and getting in their friends without tickets,maybe? Two way street. We give BLM and law enforcement, reasons to do what they do. Everybody is doing their job.. There are 68,000 people coming to a city near you for only a week or less, I for one ….am thank ful for the enforcement. A person was busted for peeing on the playa and because of his actions we all know more about him then we care to know but it’s helped educate many more of what not to do. Burning Man does their best to remind us the 10 principles to live by. It’s our CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY

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  • Irony. During Burning Man set up, a cop busts a guy for taking a pee. However, on the other hand, the BORG (BM organization ) advises folks to drink lots of liquids. But where do these liquids go? When you gotta go, you gotta go. Now that this story is out, I suspect that lots of folks will drink less water and be dehydrated as a consequence. Watch out Burners for spaced out folks on the streets or BRC, not dizzy from drugs or alcohol, but spaced out due to not drinking water for fear of being busted if they need to pee. If you’re going to Burning Man, don’t forget to bring a pee jar in your day pack and if you gotta go and a porta pottie is not near, find a private discreet place away from children, to avoid an allegation of indecent exposure, and pee in the jar. I am bringing a large peanut butter jar with me for that purpose. Notwithstanding the cops and the threat of a bust if you pee, drink lots of water !!!!!

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  • Indecent Exposure at Burning Man for peeing, lol!! I was once at a marathon in Belgium, a group of runners were making their way through the park where I was standing. I witnessed at least 3 runners stop to take a pee against a tree! Yes out in the open where there were plenty of children! No one batted an eye…

    Im sorry, but I said after last years ticket fiasco (and this years), that we have outgrown the Playa. This event needs to be moved to private land, I’ll bet there are some Indian reservations that would love to have us also!

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  • I’m not at the burn this year. There was WAY too much law enforcement last year. I saw really nice people get harassed and it was really stressful to have the red flashing lights all night long when I was trying to get some shut-eye.

    The law enforcement is WAY over the top and there needs to be a quota of them and not pulling people over for stupid stuff.

    Make em’ go after the big druggie guys making the really bad shit. I heard last year there was a bust of a lab. That’s where law enforcement efforts should go.

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  • (third try at sticking to the facts while wondering why previous posts were moderated without emailing me)

    Some but not all lawyers told me that a citation received is a misdemeanor not an infraction.

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  • “Trusting internet hype that there’s a strong police presence, and not being cognizant of all the variables is irresponsible.”
    In other words, BMORG is rewriting the authors blog and censoring people that write that cops are being overly aggressive and pulling people over without just cause. As usual, BMORG is whitewashing the reality and kissing up to BLM. Meanwhile Burners suffer.

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  • I started the conversation on avoiding LEO scrutiny in my Piss Clear stories in ’05 and ’06 after boxes of the infamous “Drug Issue” were stolen from Piss Clear’s Offices in center camp in 2004. A bunch of Feds were hanging out across from Adrian’s camp that day and when he came out and saw all the boxes gone, he simply thought they were picked up and delivered to all the various camps until everyone starting asking him “Where’s the Wednesday issue?”. I participantspectated at Bman from 1998 -2008 and I saw it go from a few cops to a lot of cops with night vision goggles and dogs. I wish I could say Bman is less policed than the default world but nay, it ’tis not. The last four years I drove an innocous white van with no stickers, no masking tape man-rune on my back windows and my bikes INSIDE the van. Just a van, nothing to see here, move along. And I dressed like a dorky middle-aged tourist and always had a female passenger. Vehicle had tags, stickers, and no broken lights or windows. I could have smuggled in a ton of drugs if I had wanted to, but I don’t reccomend that. They have been running drug sniffing dogs at the gates since at least 2008 and now it’s during the early arrival period and probably at the black rock airport as well. Don’t be surprised if DHS (Homeland Security) shows up this year because another big event had a bombing happen (Boston Marathon). Welcome to the wonderful world of George Orwell would be what I’d say if I was a dick, but I’m not. Just be really carefull (and CLEVER) and have a great safe Burn everyone….now you know the game brothers and sistas! PEACE -hp

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  • BM won a lawsuit against pershing county. Pershing County deputies are riding in tandem with BLM cops. Therefore the pairs of cops, one being a deputy pershing county sheriff are retaliating.

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  • Mr Mullen, you wrote “Every year new cops are assigned/volunteer to work Burning Man and every year there is a batch of Virgin Cops that go ape shit for a couple of days until they are informed that half the stuff they write tickets for are outside of their jurisdiction or are permitted at Burning Man by BLM. ”
    The cops are given their orders by their supervisors. Their supervisors are aware of how BM oeprates and what goes on there. Every BM assigned officer going to BM class and knows EXACTLY what to expect and what they can and can’t cite and arrest for. This has nothing to do with new vs veteran cops. It has to do with power, control and money.

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  • I like the phrase:

    Peace and love… or else

    It works both ways and in England is understood to mean:

    Just chill the hell up

    No-one wants problems on the playa

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  • Ok. I do a lot of backpacking, does that mean all those 60+ years I’ve been in violation? I don’t like stepping in someone’s pee, even my own, icky, but harmless. I believe the LEO are running up their numbers to justify higher fees for their org. This country, the USA, is getting so fearful, we have to find a way to calm the default world. Hyperbole on the other hand gives “them” the adrenalin they need to fuel their agenda. Be polite, but be firm.

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  • I was at Airventure in Oshkosh this year. It attracts no less then 500,000 people in one day.
    20,000 people camping. Granted not many hippies dancing to the music in there head.
    No drug sniffing dogs and very little sheriff presence. I didn’t see any patrolling all week.
    It’s all profiling at BM. This was my 15th consecutive year. I went for 10 days of set up and came home.

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  • In 1997 Burning Man could have moved to the fly Ranch, with the accompanying Fly Gyser! I know I was trying to make it happen! BMORG says they did not have the money to purchase te ranch some 1100 acres, I say bull ! It is clearly tine to give the BLM the heave ho!

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  • This may go unseen given that the event is already underway, but it would be really appreciated if edits and updates were shown with full transparency. Show the strike out, sign popst and highlight or italicize the additions, please. It’s the ethical standard and also what the cool kids are doing.

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  • Leggett has it pegged: Anything can happen in a situation like this, regardless of how law abiding you think you are or are trying to be.

    Stumpy too: Your country is broke so the cops are now revenue generators.

    Its over burners. Last year was your red flag and now we’ll see what happens this year.

    Weed, shrooms, all the natural substances to make the desert experience a spiritual one is marred by over-reaching law enforcement. Private Prison Industry+,Mass Incarceration = people forget about making any kind of ‘anti’ establishment statements when your mugshot arrests are blaring all over google –you can bet ‘civil death’ is the new reality for those that will be arrested this year. … The founder sold out as well as the organizers on this. Face it and move on.

    Hoping I am all wrong about this. Lets see what happens at the end of the week and see if the above equation makes any sense…… PEACE

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  • It would be a good idea to print up a card listing people’s rights as citizen. Most people do not know their rights such as no search without a warrant or probable cause. And don’t give them probable cause. Do not look at them, so they can say your pupils are dilated even when they are not, and do not leave anything in view in your vehicle that might be interpreted as suspicious. Don’t roll down your window further than necessary to talk to them. You do not have to answer questions.
    And make sure your vehicle is in perfect shape. You should ask: “Am I being detained” and “Am I free to go” at the appropriate times.

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  • By saying that “Burning Man staff works throughout the year to create a collaborative working relationship with law enforcement”, do you mean the part where you sued Pershing county sheriff’s office and went crying and sniveling like a bunch of 4 year olds to the State Legislature? Or the part where you tried to go around the State of Nevada altogether and claimed that Nevada’s local law enforcement do not have the authority to enforce state law on public land at all ? Please be reminded, burners: the Burning Man Administrative staff and their half witted idiot lawyers are the ones who brought all this down upon your heads. And every time they get belligerent with local and state law enforcement, it’s going to get exponentially worse. Good luck with that.

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  • @ 4th Generation Local:

    If you’re really local (and I assume you are), then I infer that the local buzz is that the increased police presence really is in retaliation for the exercise of what I think to be core constitutional rights, like seeking redress in the courts and lobbying the legislature. And, apparently, you’re unashamedly pleased about that. I wish I could talk you out of that opinion: When government decides that the rule of law is a bad thing, bad things happen.

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