LAW ENFORCEMENT AT BURNING MAN AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS
ATTENTION: Citizen Participation Alert!!!
Law Enforcement Feedback
The Burning Man Project wants to know as much as possible about your significant interactions with the law enforcement agencies that work at our event. If you are stopped by any law enforcement officer, please fill out a Law Enforcement Agency Feedback Form at our Black Rock Ranger headquarters in Center Camp or the outposts in the 3 & 9 o’clock plazas. We need both positive and negative feedback: Did an officer help you? Do you feel that an officer treated you unfairly?
We need both positive and negative feedback: Did an officer help you? Do you feel that an officer treated you unfairly?
If you believe you were subjected to unconstitutional or improper law enforcement activity, it is important that you promptly fill out a Law Enforcement Agency Feedback Form on playa. Be sure to fill out the form completely and truthfully with as much useful information as you can recall, and turn it into the Black Rock Rangers headquarters as soon as possible. You can also stop by Playa Info to share your experience with volunteers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Visit www.lawyersforburners.com for more information.
What’s most important is same-day feedback, which will be discussed with law enforcement on playa in a timely fashion. Be sure to obtain as much information as you can for the Feedback Form including the officer’s name, agency, vehicle license plate number, badge number, time of day, details of the event, and the names of any witnesses.
What law enforcement agencies patrol the event?
The law enforcement officers you may encounter in Black Rock City wear various uniforms. A very few are undercover and do not wear uniforms. The following agencies will be present during our event:
- Federal Bureau of Land Management Rangers
- Pershing County Sheriff's Office
- Washoe County Sheriff's Office
- Nevada State Department of Investigations
- Nevada State Health Division
- Nevada Highway Patrol
Law Enforcement Rangers with the Bureau of Land Management typically wear tan pants and short-sleeved shirts with this logo on their sleeves. They patrol throughout Black Rock City and the surrounding Black Rock Desert.
Pershing County officers patrol Black Rock City, and are sometimes supported by officers from other counties. They usually wear grey short-sleeved polo shirts marked with the Pershing County insignia.
Law enforcement officers from Washoe Country primarily patrol the nearby town of Gerlach. It is not the mission of these agencies to police your lifestyle or inhibit self-expression. They fulfill the same function as the police in any city. In the past, they have conducted search and rescue missions and assisted us in evictions. It is also their duty to respond to any infraction of the law that is brought to their attention or is in plain view. Pershing County has a new Sheriff and we’re pleased to report that he’s eager to work cooperatively with us and other agencies to focus on participant safety.
The Nevada State Health Division seek to protect the health of our citizens and prevent food-borne epidemics. Please cooperate with their lawful inspections of all public food preparation sites at our event.
Members of our own volunteer organization, the Black Rock Rangers,wear khaki-colored attire with the familiar Burning Man logo on their chests, backs, and on their vehicles. They are not part of a law enforcement agency and do not directly engage with violations of the law. They engage with issues of Burning Man community norms and rules and are empowered by the community and the Burning Man organizers to address safety concerns, mediate disputes, and resolve conflicts when conflicts cannot be resolved by the persons involved. They are members of our community. You should feel free to request their assistance at any time.
Members of theBlack Rock City Emergency Services Department wear yellow uniforms that are labeled “Emergency Services” and feature the Burning Man logo on their uniforms and vehicles. They provide Black Rock City with fire fighting, emergency medical, and mental health services. They are not part of any law enforcement or other outside agencies.
What is illegal? What are the consequences?
Disclaimer: This Survival Guide provides information about laws applicable to activities within the Black Rock Desert in the State of Nevada. But legal information is not legal advice, which is an interpretation of the applicable law to specific circumstances. Although the authors of the Survival Guide strive to ensure the accuracy and usefulness of the information here, you should consult a lawyer if you want legal advice about a particular legal question or issue you may have.
Even though Black Rock City is in a remote environment, Federal, State, and local laws remain in effect. The following are just some of the laws you should be aware of:
The use and possession of illegal drugs are violations of the law. Depending on the particular offense and the citing agency, the possession of marijuana may represent an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony. Under federal law, possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor. This can result in the issuance of a ticket that imposes a $520 fine. Nevada has very strict drug laws. Any possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, with a bail of $250 to $650, a fine of up to $600 and possibly required participation in a drug treatment program. Possession of any other illegal drug is a felony offence with a bail in state court of $1,500 or a misdemeanor with a fine of $250. Possession of 28 to 200 grams of some controlled substances is punishable by 1 to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $50,000.
ALERT: Medical marijuana cards are not recognized by either the Federal Government or the State of Nevada. Medical marijuana is only legal in a handful of states. Possession of marijuana is a crime in the Black Rock Desert. Having a medical marijuana card is not a defense. BE FOREWARNED!
The possession of any illegal drug with intent to distribute is a more serious felony offencein all jurisdictions. The possession of large quantities or a variety of drugs may be interpreted as evidence of intent to distribute. Furthermore, the act of distribution is not confined to the sale of such substances. It can mean any form of distribution including gifts. Gifting an illegal substance, even a very small amount, is viewed as a form of distribution. A conviction for distribution is punishable by imprisonment. State laws impose bail ranging between $5,000 and $250,000. The nearest courts are located in either Reno or Lovelock, depending on the crime and law enforcement agency.
Possession of drug paraphernalia with the intent to use it to ingest a controlled substance is a violation of the law. This offense is a misdemeanor under state and federal regulations. In some instances, this offense can be punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
Undercover officers patrol Black Rock City and they use night vision goggles and other technical equipment to detect illegal drug use and trafficking.
Giving illegal substances to someone else could rise to the level of drug trafficking. Legal considerations aside, if someone is begging for a gift, then he or she is not in tune with the gifting spirit of Burning Man. Gifts are best when given gratuitously, not when asked for.
Serving alcohol to minors is a violation of the law. It is a misdemeanor in Nevada to give alcoholic beverages to anyone under the 21, regardless of whether you are in your own tent or in a public place. If your theme camp has a “bar” where alcoholic drinks are gifted, then the person serving alcohol should check IDs.
It is a State and local offence for anyone under 21 to consume alcoholic beverages or to pass themselves off as being of age. It is a violation of Pershing County law for minors to even possess alcoholic beverages. Please do your part to keep our under-aged participants safe and lawful!
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a violation of the law. Nevada’s blood alcohol limit (BAC) is .08 for drivers 21 years of age and older, and 0.02 for drivers under 21. Note that the BAC is only a guide. Drivers can be arrested and convicted for DUI with a lower BAC, or for driving under the influence of controlled or prohibited substances. Be aware that you cannot refuse a test. By driving in Nevada you automatically consent to breath or blood testing. Refusing a test is grounds for arrest. Typical penalties for a first DUI offense are as follows:
- Vehicle Impoundment
- Two days to six months in jail or community service
- Fine of $400 to $1,000
- Chemical Test Fee: $60
- DUI School or Substance Abuse Treatment
- Victim Impact Panel
- Possible Driver's License revocation
- Increased car insurance premiums
Penalties increase with subsequent offenses. More information can be found at www.dmvnv.com/sitemap.htm.
Any act of assault or theft is a violation of the law, and may be cited as a felony federal offence. You may be charged in court and if convicted may be imprisoned.
The discharge of unauthorized fireworks is a violation of federal, state, and county laws. It is a misdemeanor and may result in a federal fine of $125. Pershing County regulations, in the case of unauthorized fireworks that pose a threat to public safety, impose a fine of $615. Participants who wish to create pyrotechnic art should contact pyro (at) burningman (dot) com in advance of the event.
Some Native American reservations in Nevada allow the sale and use of fireworks that are NOT legal in the jurisdictions surrounding the reservations. BE FOREWARNED THAT THE POSSESSION OR USE OF FIREWORKS IS ILLEGAL OUTSIDE OF THE RESERVATION, even if they were purchased legally on the reservation.
Non-permitted burning is a violation of the law. Fires that occur directly on the surface of the playa violate the rules of Black Rock City. This particular rule is a part of our permit stipulations. A violation is a federal misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $50. The burning of any toxic material anywhere is prohibited and can result in a $250 fine. Participants who wish to burn their art should use a public burn pyre or contact installations (at) burningman (dot) com in advance of the event to avoid a BLM fine.
Defecation on the playa is violation of the law. This is not only nasty, but is also a violation of federal regulations. You may be issued a ticket that will cost you $125 or more.
LIGHT YOUR MUTANT VEHICLE. BLM regulations require that all motorized vehicles driven at night, including art cars, have front and rear lights. These requirements also apply to lightweight motor scooters and go-peds.
YOU MAY ONLY COME INTO AND OUT OF THE EVENT SITE THROUGH THE GATE. Prior to the event, the Bureau of Land Management issues a federal closure order, creating a closed zone around BRC to ensure the safety of participants and users of the Black Rock Desert. It is a violation of the closure order to enter the closed zone except at the main gate, as is driving outside of Black Rock City in an area adjacent to its boundaries. These violations usually occur when would-be participants try to break through our city boundaries or when people attempt to avoid traffic at the conclusion of the event. PROPER USE OF THE MAIN GATE FOR EXIT PURPOSES WILL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT DURING EXODUS ON SUNDAY AND MONDAY.
Violating posted speed limits or boundary signs on the playa may result in a moving violation that imposes a $250 fine. Hiking in or through the closure zone is highly discouraged. Those on foot in this area should be prepared to show a ticket stub or risk citation by law enforcement. Using area hot springs during the event is also a violation of the closure order.
Public and Private; Your right to privacy.
Burning Man is a state of mind, and Black Rock City is an extremely interactive environment, ordered by gift giving. In Black Rock City, many distinctions between what is private and what is public tend to soften and disappear. However, Black Rock City is also subject to county, state, and federal laws. If you violate these laws you may be subject to arrest or citation.
If a law enforcement representative requests to enter your home — in this case, your tent or RV — you do not have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. Under some circumstances, however, an officer may be able to search your premises without a warrant. One exception is when the evidence of criminal activity is in plain view from a public place, such as through a window or open door. Another example is when the officer has “probable cause” to believe that a crime has been or is being committed and the situation is urgent, such as when a suspect is poised to destroy the evidence or a search is necessary to protect the public. Both sight and scent of illegal activity may be held by a court to represent probable cause. The more steps you take to make your vehicle or tent private, the more expectation of privacy you will have against an unwarranted search. On the other hand, if your tent has no walls, or your vehicle doors are always open, then your right to privacy may be diminished. Illegal behavior conducted in plain sight is subject to acts of law enforcement in Black Rock City.
***The more steps you take to make your vehicle or tent private, the more expectation of privacy you will have against an unwarranted search. On the other hand, if your tent has no walls, or your vehicle doors are always open, then your right to privacy may be diminished. Illegal behavior conducted in plain sight is subject to acts of law enforcement in Black Rock City. ***
The most common exception to the warrant requirement is when someone gives the police consent to be searched, whether it is a search of their car, tent, RV, or just their backpack or pockets. But you have the right not to consent to a search if the police officer asks for your permission to search, and there is nothing wrong with asserting your constitutional right and refusing to consent to a search. The police may decide to search you even without your consent. If you are searched without your consent you may have valid grounds later to challenge the legality of the search. Remember: if you give consent to a search, you cannot later successfully challenge the search and claim that it was unconstitutional.
If you are arrested, the police do not need your consent to search you and the area “close by,” which usually means just the room you are in. In this case, the police may not use the arrest as an excuse to search adjacent tents or RVs where there is no evidence of criminal activity.
HOW TO BEHAVE WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT:
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. Any illegal action witnessed by the police can lead to a citation or your arrest. Your best protection is to obey the law. However, everyone has a right to courteous, respectful and legally correct treatment by police officers. Law enforcement has a right to investigate illegal conduct, but you have the right to decline to answer questions and to decline consent to searches which may incriminate you. If you feel you have been mistreated, or have been threatened with consequences if you do not surrender your rights, remember the officer’s name and badge number and write down everything you can remember about the incident. If you feel your rights have been violated, complete a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger Headquarters as soon after the incident as possible.
During any encounter with law enforcement you should always remain polite and respectful. Stay calm and control your words, body language and emotions. Never touch an officer or ranger. Do not resist being detained or arrested, even if you believe you are innocent. Don’t complain at the scene or attempt to rally support from bystanders. Don’t tell the officers they’re wrong or that you’re going to file a complaint. Never interfere with law enforcement officers doing their job, and never approach officers or participants engaged in a law enforcement situation, especially if the situation does not involve you. Be prepared to exercise your rights (e.g., to remain silent, to due process, to respectfully refuse to consent to illegal searches and seizures, and to obtain the names and badge numbers of the law enforcement officers), but try also to imagine what occurs from their point of view. Law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous job. Some of the law enforcement personnel were assigned to work at Burning Man and did not volunteer for the duty.
In some cases the police are just as apprehensive as you are. Your actions can allay this anxiety and prevent harmful consequences. In some cases you may be called upon to assist in a criminal investigation. Participants should cooperate to the best of their ability with law enforcement in such circumstances.
If you are stopped for questioning:
- If the officer asks for your name, you should answer the
question truthfully. Failure to identify yourself to a requesting
police officer is a crime in Nevada and does not violate your right to
- Other than providing your name, it’s not a crime to refuse to answer questions, although
refusing to answer can lead to your being taken into custody provided the police have probable
cause to continue their investigation or make an arrest. The vast majority of law enforcement
encounters at Burning Man result in the issuance of a citation or a warning and nothing more.
Law enforcement will issue you a citation and you can avoid being taken into custody only after
the police have verified your identity. In most instances, law enforcement can verify your identity
through your social security number. Therefore, it is usually OK to volunteer your social security
number. Under no circumstances can law enforcement force you to go back to your camp
to retrieve a government issued ID. If you do allow an officer to take you back to your camp,
you may risk having your tent or RV searched.
- While conducting an investigation after reasonable
suspicion of illegal activity, police may “pat-down” your clothing if they suspect a concealed
weapon. You do not have to consent to any form of search of your body, your possessions
or your surroundings. If you do not want to consent to any further search, make this clear
in a courteous manner.
- If you are stopped for questioning, ask if you are under arrest or free to go. If you are informed
you are free to go, leave. If you are under arrest, you have a right to inquire as to what you did
that compelled the law enforcement officer to take action.
- Don’t bad-mouth the officer or run away. Even if you believe law enforcement is acting
unreasonably, confronting an officer or running away could lead to your arrest.
- Do not volunteer any information that may incriminate you. Remaining silent is your
constitutional right. Do not believe a police officer who says they will simply “let you go”
if you hand over any controlled substances or contraband.
If you are a bystander:
If you witness an arrest or questioning or are present at a crime scene, do not interfere with law enforcement officers or attempt to offer advice to persons being detained. You should, however, take note of the officers’ behavior, name, and badge number and immediately report the incident by filing a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger Headquarters in Center Camp or the 3 & 9 o’clock outposts. Record as much information as accurately as you can.
If you are arrested or taken to a police station:
- You have the right to remain silent and talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. You may
choose to tell the police nothing except for your name. You are not obligated to provide your
address or social security number. If you choose to exercise this right to remain silent, then you
don’t have to give any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in
court, based on what you and your lawyer decide is best. When arrested, people often feel the need
to prove their innocence by speaking to police, but may regret that discussion later. You do not
have to prove that you are innocent.
- Within a reasonable time, you have the right
to make a local phone call to a lawyer, bail bondsman,
relative or any other person. The police are
not allowed to listen in on your call to a lawyer.
- If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you have a right
to a public defender at no charge, and should
ask the police how the lawyer may be contacted.
About the highways leading to the event:
Representatives of state and county law enforcement, principally the Nevada Highway Patrol, are present on the highways leading to our event. The Pyramid Lake Tribal Police also patrol the area around the town of Nixon. Speed limits are strictly enforced in municipal areas. The open road is also heavily patrolled during our event. It is illegal to park by the side of the road except in turnout areas. It can also be very dangerous to pull over - a large portion of this highway is bordered by soft shoulders. However, should your car break down it is wise to pull over as far as possible to avoid slowing traffic or creating a hazard. You should drive carefully and observe all speed limits.
IF THE POLICE STOP YOU WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING:
- On request, show police officers your driver’s
license, registration and proof of insurance. Your
vehicle could be searched without a warrant if the
police have probable cause (e.g., if there is contraband
visible to the officer). If the officers have
probable cause, they will tell you they are going to
do a search. You should not resist. If the officers ask
you if you consent to a search, then you have the
right to refuse. It is not lawful for police to arrest
you simply for refusing to consent to a search.
- If you refuse consent to a search, the officer may
try to intimidate you by threatening to arrest you
or to bring in drug-detecting dogs. If you consent
to a search, you are giving the officers more
authority to search you or your vehicle and anything
they find can be used as evidence against
you in a court proceeding. Whether or not you
consent, you should complete and file a Law Enforcement
Feedback Form at Ranger Headquarters
at Center Camp or at the outposts in the 3 &
9 o’clock plazas to report the incident. Obtain the
officer’s badge number and vehicle license plate
number so that your report will be complete.
- If you're given a ticket, you should sign it; otherwise you
can be arrested. You can fight the ticket in court later.
- If you're suspected of alcohol or drug impaired driving
(DUI), you should comply with a requested blood, urine or breath test.
Nevada law requires you to provide these samples, and if you refuse, an
officer may direct that reasonable force be used to the extent
necessary to obtain the samples.
Some text provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, visit http://www.aclu.org for more information.