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The Law Enforcement and Agency Liaison (LEAL) team was created for the purpose of dealing more directly with law enforcement (LE) and agency issues. Burning Man creates the temporary city we call Black Rock City (BRC) in the jurisdiction of the County of Pershing in the State of Nevada, on U.S. federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Thus, BRC and the Burning Man event are subject to the laws and under the jurisdictions of law enforcement agencies created by all these entities. Each may impose, at its independent discretion, its own interpretation of issues with a potentially significant impact upon the Burning Man event, up to and including whether the event is allowed to continue from year to year. LEAL was thus created as an extension (but still part) of the Black Rock Rangers to address the quality of this important interface and to help to manage relations with officials. The basic objective of LEAL in this sense is to make our relations with LE and agencies interdependent, with each and all sharing in the decisions that affect BRC and the Burning Man event.

The good news is that the Burning Man organization and the Black Rock Rangers have enjoyed good to very good relations with law enforcement for the past several years. LEAL was created in 2002, and its first year was judged to be a success. Our second year in 2003 brought our first chance to fine-tune based on what was learned in 2002. For the general goal of continuing to enhance LE and agency relationships, LEAL 2003 can also be judged as a success. Previous gains were preserved and potential avenues for future cooperation were uncovered.

Although Black Rock City has experienced very few "bad players," law enforcement personnel still must handle criminal behaviors when and if they occur. However, the general role of protecting the citizens of Black Rock City and enhancing Burning Man participants' quality of experience is focused elsewhere. It is vital that the first response in non-criminal situations be the Black Rock Rangers. This guideline allows the Rangers, through their role as participants and applying their skills in non-confrontational mediation, to resolve most potentially difficult situations before a significant problem level develops. Thanks to relationships of mutual respect between Burning Man, the Rangers, LEAL, and the LE groups, along with well-developed and practiced habits of communication, we are happy to report that the "Rangers as first response" scenario was almost always followed at Burning Man 2003.

From the debrief after 2002, we identified some communication and coordination problems on the playa between the Rangers and LEAL. Thus, one of our primary goals for 2003 was to better integrate the two groups, in both philosophical and operational ways. This development was important because LEAL needs the eyes and ears, experience, and personnel of the Rangers to identify and manage situations, and because the Rangers need to maintain the highest-quality relationship possible with law enforcement. LEAL's efforts, personnel, contacts, and relationships promote this success as part of the overall Ranger functioning.

Here are the key elements of the LEAL plan for Burning Man 2003:

  1. For 2003, we increased the size of the LEAL team from five to seven. This decision kept the group small and manageable, but we need two more members for 2004.
  2. We retained our practice of careful screening and selection of LEAL team members. The LEAL team deals with such potentially volatile situations that only playa-tested members are retained. Many other areas of voluntarism are more radically inclusive, but no weak links are allowed to stay in the LEAL role. No cop "wannabes" are allowed, for example. As mentioned, our primary objective for 2003 was better integration of LEAL staff and functions with the Rangers. This objective was accomplished by: a series of meetings between LEAL and Ranger management groups, a series of trainings (as explained below), and making the LEAL team member on duty at all times a communicative and interdependent member of the Ranger shift team.
  3. We enhanced Ranger training on LE issues in general and the LEAL role, in particular. We wrote a new LEAL training module that was a part of all Ranger training sessions, giving all Rangers a common vocabulary and understanding of LEAL, with emphasis on integration of the two groups. We also created a new joint training session before the event attended by all LEAL team members and members of the Ranger leadership group. This session functioned not only to establish common procedures and working arrangements, but also to create better interpersonal relationships. We also ensured that key Ranger personnel were part of the meeting between Burning Man staff, LEAL, LE personnel, and agency staff the Sunday before the event.
  4. This pre-event meeting with all LE and agency administration personnel was attended by the Burning Man Board members, LEAL team members, and key Ranger personnel. This exchange established a common understanding of the set up of BRC for 2003, allowed various groups on both sides to present their plans for the event, and helped to reinforce the quality of standing relationships as well as initiate new ones, especially for new LE personnel. The meeting included food and soft drinks this year, helping to set a cordial tone and allowing for more interaction.
  5. A LEAL team member was on duty 24/7 from Monday to the end of the event, with additional members activated during Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. This constant presence helped to cement Ranger relationships and improved communication from shift to shift.
  6. Again this year, the LEAL Team Manager chaired daily agency meetings at 4:15. After that, a follow-up meeting specifically with LE representatives allowed more discussion. This plan worked well again this year, allowing good control of agenda items and some quality exchanges afterward.

Perhaps due to this extraordinary working partnership, or perhaps simply to the increasingly law-abiding behavior of BRC citizens, total citations and arrests were down significantly (26%) from 2002 to 2003.

The quality of relationships described above results from a process of: developing a good communicative understanding between the various LE groups and agencies and the Burning Man Project, LEAL, and the Rangers. As part of this development, we cultivate relationships with key personnel, characterized by significant elements of mutual respect and understanding. This process involves a series of meetings and on-going discussions. For example, our LEAL Team Manager, the Ranger Director, and several other Burning Man Senior Staff members attended numerous meetings directed to both individual and group issue resolutions. These interactions necessitated travel to Winnemucca to meet with the BLM in their offices, to Reno for "Cooperators Meetings" (meetings with almost all agencies and entities involved), to Reno for separate meetings with the Washoe County Sheriff, and to Lovelock for meetings with the Pershing County Sheriff. These meetings were followed up by personal phone conversations, exchanges of documentation, etc.

For 2004, we want to reinforce and extend our earlier gains in Ranger/LEAL integration. We will ensure adequate Ranger training about LEAL's role and maintain joint leadership training. We will continue to work toward attracting the quality of LEAL personnel we have had in the past. We are pursuing further clarification of authority and responsibility questions between the Rangers, LEAL, the Ranger Department Head, the LEAL Team Manager, and the Burning Man Board.

Submitted by,
Duane Hoover End of page

Click here to read the 2002 Law Enforcement report.