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Law Enforcement and Agency Liaison Team

The Reno Gazette Journal's article about Burning Man this year started out,Citations were up, but medical cases were down at this year's Burning Man even. The truth is that all negative stats were down for 2004, especially on a per-capita basis. For some reason, the press release issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reported an unnecessarily bleak picture. Therefore, the LEAL team has set a goal of working with BLM people to confirm numbers and to coordinate within Burning Man and with the BLM to release accurate and agreed-upon data.

In fact, total citations were up 12% to 218, but most all of that increase came from citations we would want BLM to issue. Examples are unsafe driving on the perimeter, fence crashing, waste and water dumping on the playa, etc. This increase was a desirable result of our request to BLM law enforcement to concentrate more than ever before on monitoring the perimeter and safety issues outside the fence. In response, BLM's chief of law enforcement Operations created a 24/7 open playa BLM patrol team This change worked! The example suggests that just focusing on the total number of cases can be misleading. Plus, with a 16% population increase, a proportionate increase in citation stats might be projected.

In the past, the LEAL team has focused a great deal of attention on the drug citations issued by BLM. Our concern here is twofold:

  1. Black Rock City is a "target rich environment" with many people feeling they have stepped into world where laws do not apply once they enter our city's Gate. Some are more careless than they would be elsewhere with the display and use of illegal substances or drug paraphernalia.
  2. In 2003 and 2002, a significant number of BLM drug citations were generated by what many people came to perceive as improper searches.

In 2003 and in 2002, drug citations made up as much as 60% of all BLM citations issued. With recent receipt of data for 2004, we can now state that drug citations dropped to the 50% range in 2004, a return to 2001 levels. The "target rich environment" issue still remains, but we are pleased to announce that the illegal search issue pretty much disappeared in 2004. We have set a goal of addressing the issue of many targets for enforcement to see if we can get BLM to differentiate between possession for personal use from possession for sale or distribution.

The BLM law enforcement chief promised a new attitude for 2004, and she delivered. She met with LEAL representatives in Reno on two occasions for extensive planning sessions, exchanged documents and phone calls, designed a BLM presentation to be included in the Burning Man Ranger Training sessions, and personally came to San Francisco with one of the BLM undercover officers for a very positive participation in the 2004 LEAL team and Ranger training session. Her hand-picked crew followed her example on playa, and we had unprecedented levels of timely and useful information exchange. In response to possible changes in BLM law enforcement, we have set a goal of helping to keep as much of the 2004 BLM team intact; at the least, we hope to ensure a carryover of our open communications with BLM to 2005.

Rangers as First Response

We are pleased to report that Rangers continued to act as first response in Black Rock City. Pretty much all law enforcement agencies, including Pershing County, have accepted the principle. The general idea is gaining more and more acceptance that Rangers and LEAL offer resources that officers do not have in their normal world.

In normal duties, a law enforcement officer has an obligation to contain crime, but no action may be taken until an offense is observed. An officer might have to wait until a drunk gets into a vehicle before intervening, leaving no option but to cite or arrest.

In Black Rock City, however, if an officer sees a potential DUI situation developing, a call to LEAL will determine if a Ranger intervention makes sense. LEAL can call in a Ranger team to escort the potential DUI to a safe harbor. The Rangers take the intoxicated person to the medical tent to check for health issues, and then the person can relax at Sanctuary and sleep off the drink. The result is, no citizens are in danger from a potential DUI, one participant nurses a hangover the next morning, all without the added discomfort of unnecessary arrests or citations. Our goal is to preserve and expand the role of Rangers as first response mechanism for the 2005 event.

Pershing County Issues

Pershing County officials had given plenty of indication that they were increasingly concerned about adult activities in public. In response to this concern, the Burning Man community was alerted. Almost every adult-themed camp did a very good job of screening entry into private spaces to keep out minors. Rangers send congratulations to all who made this effort; it was well-received by Pershing County and appreciated. No arrests were made in this area in 2004, but expect the issue to be a priority in 2005, as well. Pershing County also raised the issue of underage drinking during 2004, and officials continue to focus on the implications of having underage participants at what they believe to be an adult event. LEAL will continue to study Pershing County concerns before the 2005 event and look for ways to ameliorate their concerns and/or inform the community as to the issues involved.

LEAL Team Holdovers, Newbies, and Additions

The LEAL team did a great job on playa this year. Five holdovers returned and their experience paid off. Roles underwent additional differentiation, with new positions created for Scheduling Reinforcement and Team Manager Back-up along with Logistics Manager and Ranger Liaison. These positions allowed the LEAL Team Manager to spend more time on playa networking, politicking, and working on relationship management.

Another useful change involved members of the Rangers as direct backups for the LEAL Team Manager on a day-to-day operational basis. In prior years, the LEAL Team Manager backup was a member of the Emergency Services Department, and access was not always perceived to be as immediate as might be desired. The intra-departmental setup facilitated communication flows.

One new member joined the LEAL Team as a newbie this year and kicked butt right from the get-go. Another new thing we did on playa this year was to engage in a series of LEAL 'in action' training sessions. We scouted out some prime candidates for the team and conducted pre-playa screenings and interviews. We then extended the Ranger mentoring concept and tested them under fire by having them handle LEAL situations under direct supervision. We are happy to report that this system identified and retained two new additions to the LEAL team, who will be working with us on the playa in 2005. Our goal is to keep the current LEAL team intact for 2005 and to add even more depth to training procedures.

Ranger/LEAL Cooperation

Cooperation between the branches of the Black Rock Rangers had been a problem area in 2003, and we felt a need to address it in 2004. While a few clarification issues remain, we are happy to report that the Rangers and LEAL worked together this year better than ever before. Part of this program included increasing understanding by law enforcement officers that they could work with Rangers on a scene, especially Officers of the Day and Shift Leads, as well as LEAL team members. We are hopeful that repetition and adoption over time will continue to reinforce this relationship in the future. We will be working to reinforce and retain the quality working relationship established in 2004 and to make it even better in 2005.

The LEAL training session planned for San Francisco in August had to be rearranged at the last minute. As a result, Ranger Shift Leads did not get as much training time on LEAL-oriented topics as was desired. This difficulty will be corrected in 2005.

Daily Agency Meetings

The daily agency meetings (held at 4:15 p.m. each afternoon) went quite smoothly this year. The sessions focused on the important points at hand and seldom ventured into unexpected territory. Meetings were well-attended by staff from BLM, Pershing County, Washoe County, Nevada Highway Patrol, REMSA, and the Health Department. The LEAL Team Manager chaired the meetings, which also included the Burning Man Emergency Services department manager and other participants from Rangers, LEAL, and ESD.

These meetings highlighted some things for consideration for the 2005 event:

  1. Hand sanitizers at the porta potties need to be checked daily and not only refilled but also tested to make sure they work and that they are properly located. For example, we moved a bundle of potties from 6:00 and Earth to 6:00 and Saturn, but the hand sanitizers were not moved.
  2. The Survival Guide language on law enforcement issues needs to be reexamined.
  3. A suggestion is under consideration that lights be required for bicycles.
  4. Issues with participant use of scooters need to be resolved. For example, many scooters lack any lights for night driving. BLM representatives have warned that they will not allow motorized vehicles to operate at night without lights.
  5. The Health Department understands the gift economy, but they recommend that Burning Man discourge giving food.
  6. Police agencies assure us that they do not want to drive on the Esplanade, but they are often forced to do so by the presense of art and other obstacles in the zone parallel to the Esplanade. Driving farther out where they cannot view the Esplanade is not an option, so they are forced to drive inside the art and/or on the Esplanade. The suggestion is to keep a clear path adjacent to the Esplanade for patrol traffic.


LEAL team experienced its best year yet in 2004. A top-quality LEAL staff, good working relationships with the Rangers, and significant levels of law enforcement cooperation helped us all to avoid traumatic events. Let's hope (and work) for the same for Burning Man 2005.

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Click here to read the 2003 Law Enforcement report