Pershing County Cops and Federal Agents: Integrated and Synchronized

Welcome to our new post-PRISM world of high tech, syncrhonized, integrated LEOs.

The word coming from the Playa is that the cops are cracking down hard on Burning Man this year – so hard that some of the volunteer workers building the city are grumbling about a General Strike as a protest.

cops muggerThe Reno-Gazette Journal sheds some light on what is going on. “The Man did not abide by the county’s fee“, said NBC earlier this year. Burning Man tried to both defeat and go around Pershing County, objecting to increased fees with a lawsuit and political lobbying in the Nevada State legislature. Pershing County hit back, claiming a huge defeat over Burning Man. It seems they then approached the Feds with the argument that the only way they could effectively police Burning Man, was to join forces, and put State and Federal agents together in each car. A new boss for the BLM, a Chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility on-site at the command center (perhaps with a hotline to the judge for warrants). 2 cops from different agencies to witness what goes on; linked with sniffer dogs, night vision goggles, and other brand spanking new high tech equipment to their central command post near to the Black Rock Ranger Station. I guess the Federal Government trumps the State Government, even in the Wild West…

An estimated 68,000 people are anticipated to stream into the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nev. for Burning Man beginning Sunday, and federal and state law enforcement agencies for the event said this year they are implementing a new integration to ensure the public’s safety.

“We have integrated resources and manpower out of need and because the population has grown,” Pershing County Sheriff Richard Machado said. “The population is to the point now that it’s imperative that we work together to manage this event.”

In previous years, each sector of law enforcement covered thier own agency jurisdictions and relied on the resources they brought out for the event. In addition to sharing resources this year, there will be one law enforcement command post in Black Rock City stationed near Burning Man’s Black Rock Ranger’s station and each vehicle will have a state officer and a federal officer to ensure they can respond to any incident at the event.

“We knew that we needed to take an internal look at this operation and we knew that integration was a key component of that,” the Bureau of Land Management Special Agent-In-Charge Dan Love said.

Love said they will staff 102 officers total for the event between the PCSO and the BLM. He said for every shift, 64 officers will be on duty on the playa and will rotate in overlapping shifts every 12 hours. Overall, he said, it’s a ratio of 1 officer to every 1,000 participants.

There will be 102 agents at Burning Man – not counting the snitches informants working in undercover stings. Underage drinking, underage sex, prostitution, drugs, serving food without a health permit…these are just some of the citatable offenses they are looking to trap Burners into, and then financially penalize them. For every shift there will be 64 officers on duty, equivalent to 1 per 1000 Burners. Pershing County was seeking an increase in fees to provide 1 agent for every 500 Burners, and now that they’ve integrated with the Federal Bureau of Land Management their overall ratio is about 1 per 600. We wonder if that means they will no longer be seeking increased money from Burning Man – or if the Feds are cutting them in for a share of their 3%. In 2012 Burning Man paid $2,483,836 to the Federal and local agencies.

Good news though Burners – the cops promise they won’t be performing any unwarranted searches. Yay! The Pershing County sheriff’s office said last year there was not a single illegal search and seizure (a violation of the Consitutional Fourth Amendment right, which protects United States Citizens, but may not apply to Burners travelling from other countries). They assure us that there won’t be any this year either – only those where there is “probable cause”. What is probable cause? That’s something decided by the LEOs on the spot, backed up by their department, and if you don’t like it, you can take it before the outspokenly anti-Burning Man local judge:

In 2012, there were about 350 arrests and citations during the event which included drug violations. Love said that they will use a variety of techniques to police the event and ensure compliance which includes K-9 canines and some searches where merited.

When it comes to searches of persons or vehicles conducted on the playa, Machado said that they are bound by certain laws and search and seizure limitations with what officers can and cannot do. He said they are not going to step out of the scope of that.

…“The Fourth Amendment, and all constitutional rights of the participants, is something that federal law enforcement, in conjunction with Pershing County, takes very seriously,” Love said. “Our Chief of Office of Professional Responsibility sits at the command post and reviews all reported participant incidents that could, or are, be reported as violations. I am unaware of any open cases deriving out of 2012 that have been met with merits or that are left open and pending an investigation.”

Both the BLM and PCSO work with Burning Man organizers to address participant complaints and issues that come up on a daily basis, and they hold a joint law enforcement meeting with BRC’s security representative. Love said that they address all the feedback that they receive from participants.

“It may be the perception that illegal searches are occurring during the event,” Love said. “From the law enforcement standpoint, the reality is that it’s an unfounded allegation that there are illegal searches taking place.”

Last year we had 22 arrests, 230 citations, and 441 verbal warnings. 102 cops, for 22 arrests. The arrest rate is 0.39 per 1000, or including citations 4.4 per 1000. So each cop has to issue 1 citation every 2 days, to maintain the standard of community policing provided in the past.

NBC Bay Area reports that the number of “pre-Burn” coppers has increased from 4 to 20, and the first stop for Burning Man visitors this year is a speed trap:

Many burners arriving to Black Rock City, NV were being greeted by law enforcement officers with sirens blaring.

imsexy copsHere are some reasons why burners say police pulled them over: 

  • Driving one mile over the posted 10 mph speed limit
  • Not using a blinker
  • License plate blocked by bike rack
  • License plate not illuminated

“In 18 years on the playa, I’ve never seen a more aggressive police presence than what’s been going down today,” read an Instagram post by Aaron Muszalski, aka SFSlim.

Muszalski, was the first to alert fellow burners to be aware when he posted a story showing one of the DPW vehicles, called El Couchino because it is an El Camino with a couch in the back, getting pulled over for a registration violation.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

“One DPW member was issued a $275 ticket for urinating on the playa, and threatened with being forced to register as a convicted sex offender,” Muszalski said.

There are always a lot of police from a number of different agencies visibly patrolling Black Rock City, but citations for lesser infractions appears to be new.

Some are speculating it has something to do with the fact that Burning Man has filed a lawsuit against Pershing County, Nevada over local government’s new fees for the event, from $180,000 in 2011 to over $600,000 in 2013.

Participants complaining about rampant law enforcement is nothing new at Burning Man, but this does seem to be a worse start to the event than anyone can remember in terms of likelihood of getting pulled over.

For many years, only four BLM officers were at the event in the week before it opened, and they enjoyed the event and came every year.  This year, because of the ramping number of people who arrive early, the initial number of early officers was to be 20, but that number may have gone down a little, according to someone with intimate knowledge of policing Burning Man, but who wanted to remain anonymous.

While the gates to Burning Man don’t officially open until 6 p.m. Sunday night, each year thousands of people get Early Arrival passes to come in to set up art, camps or to volunteer with the organization.

Wednesday night, as lightning struck the hills around Black Rock City, BLM officers waited at the T-junction after the Greeter’s Stations and pulled over numerous cars for any and all reasons.

Chances are, if you didn’t get pulled over, it was because the officers were busy with someone else.

This year, for the first time, BLM (Bureau of Land Management, a Federal agency that, according to their webpage “administers 264 million acres of public lands, located primarily in the 12 Western” and has Federal jurisdiction over the Black Rock Desert) officers will ride side-by-side with Pershing County Sheriffs, granting any and all jurisdictional rights in a stop.

On Friday, Burning Man posted a “Law Enforcement in Black Rock City” entry to their Burning Blog saying, “While Black Rock City is certainly a remote and freewheeling place, it’s also a functioning metropolis. And just like in any other city, law enforcement patrols BRC day and night to keep the city safe and compliant with the laws that allow us to have the event in the first place. So yes, any illegal action on your part can lead to a citation (more common) or your arrest (rare).”

Former special agent in charge for the BLM, Mark Pirtle, oversaw Burning Man for years but he recently retired so some are thinking the new regime may be a part of this new aggressive enforcement policy.

“It is often like this at the beginning, then it calms down once the gates open because there are just too many of us,” said one longtime burner artist who wanted to remain anonymous.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in “anonymous Burners” telling you “it’s often like this”. It’s never been like this before. The guy who used to run this for the BLM has retired. The new guy is looking to make his mark. There are all kinds of lawsuits going on between Burning Man, Burners, and the Nevada authorities. Burning Man tried to get the law changed, and this is the result. Pershing County is running the show. As far as I know, we’ve never remotely been in this situation before.

Is driving 1 MPH over the speed limit probable cause for a search of your vehicle? Or having a license plate that is not illuminated, or is blocked by a bike? Well, it certainly is if you consent to the search. Consent, and you waive your rights.

It seems that Pershing County is determined to get its money come hell or high water. They see a $23 million cake being baked on their lands, and they want a slice of it. If the cake gets bigger, they want their slice to get bigger. If they can’t get their money from the swollen coffers of BMOrg, then they will get it from the hurting pockets of individual Burners who have already spent thousands or more to get to the Playa. Mota Bota shares some personal stories about the kind of fines being given for these citations, and the way the police can exploit the “kid-friendly” nature of this extremely adult event to easily cash in:

What you must know is that Burning Man is a VERY SOPHISTICATED POLICE STATE, EXTENSIVELY PATROLLED and MONITORED by State and Federal Officers. They literally motor by your camp every twenty minutes looking for someone ‘anyone’ to bust.  Not to mention Camp Spies in costume and Special Operations sporting night vision goggles and underage shills.  And their interest is simple – they’re dying to give you a citation.  They could care less about what you’re doing, what they’re keen about is the ‘enormous’ amount of money generated by these citations, more citations = more money for State and Federal coffers.  If you go, check out their equipment, it will all be brand new and state of the art.  And who do you think pays for all of that personnel and equipment?  Ding! Ding! Ding! You guessed it, the ‘Burners’. And remember, neither Nevada nor the Federal Government will recognize your medical marijuana card.

Cops lined up at Burning Man.

Now fast forward to my last Burn in 2009.  In my camp alone a gentleman was busted for marijuana while driving within the Burning Man compound (the most dangerous place to drive).  He had a faulty taillight on his trailer and a pot tin on his dash.  The officers could’ve cared less about the taillight, but eagerly sighted him for the pot.  That citation was $675., to be paid within 45 days, and if not, a warrant would be issued, the infraction amount increased, and the citation would be part of his permanent record. My lovely neighbors across the street, a young working couple of 40 with toddlers at home, offered (like scads of others) a free bar.  They were visited by an under age shill from Special Operations and busted.  That citation was $1,500., to be paid in full within 45 days, with the same scenario as above.

Pershing County aren’t hogging all the action; Washoe County and the Nevada State Highway Patrol still have their own revenue streams jurisdictions too:

While regulating laws within BRC’s parameters are the responsibility of the BLM and PCSO, highways and roads leading to and from Burning Man are overseen by the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

According to WCSO Public Information Officer Bob Harmon, WCSO staffs a minimum of 10 deputies and one sergeant for the event and their primary mission is to protect the safety of the public along the main roads leading into the event within Washoe County’s jurisdiction, including the towns of Gerlach and Empire.

“When heading out to the event, take your time and exercise patience,” Harmon said. “Don’t try to pass a long string of vehicles. A lot of motor vehicle accidents have happened because people were in a hurry to get to Black Rock City or get home. Make sure you are well rested. Never drive tired, drunk, or drugged and always obey posted speed limits.”

We also here that the Paiute Indians have dropped their speed limits ultra-low, so that their brand new pursuit vehicles can see some action.

Mota Bota has some good advice for all Burners. Let’s be careful out there!

So What Do You Do? 

1.  Make sure your vehicle is currently registered and all the lights are working properly.

2.  Never ‘ever’ go over the speed limit ‘anywhere’ (especially inside the BM compound).

3.  Don’t ‘at any time’ ride on top or outside of your car, and wear your seat-belt at all times accordingly.  The art cars will be excepted once they’re sanctioned.

4.  No open alcohol containers in your vehicle at any time, period.

5.  Never smoke pot in a public place – the world’s easiest bust via odor.

Relaxing at Burning Man.

6.  Never smoke pot in your car – even when parked, keep it in the tent.

 7.  If you’re going to do a free bar, ‘check IDs’ if you’re the ‘least’ bit suspicious of an underage drinker.

 8.  Know your rights, they still need probable cause to search your vehicle.

 9.  Never offer drugs to strangers – especially those two cute chicks, they’re narcs!

 10.  Keep any drugs concealed in route to BM – party when you get there.

11.  Use common sense and trust your gut, if someone seems cool, they probably are;  if they seem flaky, they probably are.  The neighbors you camp with will be the most trustworthy.


 13.  And lastly, go to ‘jackrabbitspeaks’ – this is the official e-mail site of Burning Man – and type ‘law enforcement’ in the subject column.  You can also check out ‘citations’ and ‘arrests’.  Read what Will Chase and the Burners have to say about law enforcement, because I’m sure I’ve missed a few things.

Our recommendation is, let’s kill this with kindness. Be nice and loving and friendly and happy to all the LEOs you encounter, smile and thank them, let all the new ones warm to us. They’re just doing their jobs, trying to make a living like many Burners do. They’ll realize once the party starts that everyone’s just there to have a good time…and if there are some seriously nasty hardened criminal types there, let’s all hope they get ’em.

46 comments on “Pershing County Cops and Federal Agents: Integrated and Synchronized

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  18. We had our car stopped for having bikes covering the license plates. We were immediately informed that they were looking for drugs and were going to run a drug dog around our car (without consent of any kind). Meanwhile, we were bullied and harassed by the officer, trying to get us to “just give it up” and that it “really pisses them off when people lie to them”. Luckily, we had nothing. We left feeling EXTREMELY violated. The officer told us that they typically work on the US/Mexico border and were brought out for the event. Very very sad day, and the beginning of the end of Burning Man, IMO.

  19. Just got back from burning man. The place was flooded with cops. Camoed out and ready to crack heads. At our bar there narcs under age girls working for cops asking for beer . Weed and sex . After that we closed the bar down . Nobody gets nothin . I will not go next year unless they move to new location. .

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  21. JOIN ME in an e-mail campaign to the local law enforcement voicing our concerns for their trespass and aggression to this peaceful event! Hit up the FB pages, all the agencies and any other place that will listen….my kid is there and this isn’t what she went for!

    “The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office will be held accountable by the people of the county for maintaining the highest standards of the community. We will treat all people with respect, fairness and compassion.”

    Lets hold them responsible!
    Pershing County
    Sheriff Richard Machado
    Phone: (775) 273-5111

    The local News contacts;

  22. Years ago the Oregon Country Fair was being harassed by the local “authorities”. One of the organizers was an attorney. They brought a lawsuit and won! They won enough money in damages to buy the land they held the event on. It is still held on that land 40 years later. Just a thought…

  23. that’s a pretty heavy presence. 1 for every 600 or so. Not as bad as electric daisy just for reference, which was like 1 cop for every 300 goers, out of over 150,000 people a night at the event. Police state for sure.

  24. Burn down the man and start a new event, at an undisclosed private location. I’m sure there’s a wealthy, well connected, land-owning burner somewhere in NV that would be up for hosting the next phase. I’m all for adapting and changing, (10 year burner) but 65k people is just way too big.
    Hell, they’ve made a SHITTON of money off us by now, I think they owe it to their people to find a way to keep the default out. Invite all previous burners and give out directions to said event only a few days out.
    BRC can be anywhere, at anytime… by any name.

  25. The solution is painfully simple. Don’t bring drugs to Burning Man and don’t use drugs at Burning Man. If you do and get caught, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

  26. time for operation “Smoke Screen”. Everyone roll up cigarettes making them look like joints, and spread them around. Let the cops waste their time trying to bust people for smoking pot, eventually giving up when they realize its never pot.

  27. The only things you should ever say to a LEO is:
    1. I do not consent to a search
    2. I chose to remain silent
    3. I want to speak to my lawyer
    Nothing else besides maybe your name!
    This tactic has forced the DEA to change how they raid Medical Cannabis Dispensaries in California. Please exercise your Rights as a Citizen!
    Thanks to Americans for Safe Access for ongoing legal integrity training 🙂

  28. Ty reports of heavy handed police actions on FaceCrack: and someone else responds with this lawerly advice: From David Pullman, a criminal defense attorney:

    Alright people, enough is enough! Yet ANOTHER of my friends just went down for drugs because he unnecessarily consented to a search and then made stupid unnecessary statements to the police. If you tend to possess/transport/sell drugs, you need to know EXACTLY how to handle yourself with the police, or you are being kind of a reckless fool, aren’t you? I am going to start offering trainings with individuals and small groups which will include lessons and role plays on how to confidently assert and maintain your rights in the face of all the typical police tricks that they use to get you to screw yourself over.

    In the meantime, if you are driving to Burning Man (or anywhere else) with drugs, you should, IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, strictly adhere to the following three cardinal rules:

    1. NEVER (There aren’t CAPS big enough for this) FUCKING !!!!NEVER!!!! consent to a search. Practice this sentence: “I have nothing at all to hide, but I am a big believer in my Constitutional right to privacy and so I’m sorry but I am not going to consent to a search.” Be prepared for some kind of bullshit response designed to undermine you and respond by saying, “You may be right, sir/ma’am, but although I have nothing to hide, I am a big believer in……” Repeat as long as necessary.

    2. NEVER (There aren’t CAPS big enough for this) FUCKING !!!!NEVER!!!! make any statement whatsoever to the police once they have read you your rights. Those rights are there for a reason, why would you give them up right after being informed of them? The cardinal rule is SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! and it applies 100% of the time, no matter what the police say. End of story. This is the number one way that people fuck themselves over.

    3. When the police initially ask you questions, but haven’t arrested you or read you your rights, give them your name and nothing else. Practice saying: “No disrespect sir/ma’am, but my (insert relative) is an attorney and s/he told me to never, under any circumstances, say anything to the police other than my name.” Be prepared for some kind of bullshit response designed to undermine you and respond by saying, “You’re probably right, sir/ma’am, but I my (insert relative) is a really smart lawyer and s/he told me to never, under any circumstances, say anything to the police other than my name. I know you are just trying to do your job and I apologize, but I do have to listen to what my (insert relative) says. Caveat: There may be instances where there are better things to say than this, but you are not trained in this and the police are, so they will win every time. So, when in doubt, stick to this rule.

    Practice saying these things in front of a mirror and with other people until you can look a cop in the eye and say them with ease, confidence, and resolve. 75% of the people in prison are there because they violated one of these three rules. If you follow these rules, you are far less likely to get busted and you will drastically improve the outcome of your case, if you do get busted. Pass it on!

  29. What a weird way to close the article. “An antagonistic occupying force is coming to Burning Man to mug any drug users they can catch. But remember to give them the respect they deserve for choosing to enforce the War on Drugs for a living!”

  30. i think a strike or moving to a new location is paramount. We cant be easy going about these shitheads doing this anymore. This police state is getting way out of hand.

  31. @Alkymist, As a FYI radio jammers are considered a federal offense and come with a 15-20 year term (they don’t go light on this one) and are very easy to track the location of. The amount of electricity required to properly jam the frequencies you want as well is staggering, requiring a large generator to block 100 ft/2. If you want to buy them good luck as they all come from outside the US and will be seized by customs. Build them? Good luck in two days.

  32. I don’t think there is a city in the country with so many cops to people.
    There are enough techies at the event to bring radio frequency jammers and jam the LEO’s radios.

  33. What should be and what is are two different things .Having no license plate light will get you pulled over everywhere in the US except maybe parts of California.ANyone who doesn;t realize this is the law is asking for trouble in any rural county. It’s pretty normal for people w/ California plates to assume they can go 10 miles an hour over the speed limit without getting stopped- but that;s not the case in any other state.
    Anyway- probably a good time to find a new location. If the county is going to try to milk the event for even more money thatn it already brings in, the best response would be to take the whole revenue stream away from them

  34. This is so messed up in so many ways. The only thing any cops should be there to do is to hand out water and test drugs to make sure they are safe and very rarely take somebody away that is out of hand and violent. What a sick fucking society we live in. Is it really gonna come to the point where we are forced to bring our guns to burning man to show that we can take care of this ourselves?

    • I just can’t believe we have to pay for the LEO’s and all their high tech crap even tho we don’t want them there.

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