Crime Shenanigans 2013

We don’t have all the information at hand yet, which is interesting. Usually it’s published by now, which makes us wonder if the news is not so great for the cops – like, we increased our population, they increased their presence and stepped it up a notch with dogs and checkpoints and co-ordinated patrols…but overall the arrests went down. This would be bad news for any LEOs hoping to make extra cash from a larger Burning Man, through more tickets and fines.

Last year there were 22 arrests, from a much smaller population. From what we can tell, this year there were 15 arrests in Pershing County. The good news is, we added 16,000 people to our city, and the crime rate went down.

The bad news? The most serious thing is 12 sexual assaults. The next problem is targeting of Burners, including using the media to hurt their careers. DUI checkpoints in Mono county netted 20 arrests, although by the sounds of it not everyone they busted ended up getting charged. At Burning Man itself, there were 15 arrests (including DUIs in the County) out of more than 100 officers – it seems a little over-policed to me. They need to be targeting the real criminals.

cops burning man quadIn Pershing County:

The Federal Bureau of Land Management was integrated together with the Pershing County’s sheriffs department this year. All crimes are processed through Pershing County. However this doesn’t change the fact that as far as Burning Man’s concerned, the only place in Northern Nevada which can process rape kits with the evidentiary chain intact, is several hours’ drive away in Sparks. We’ve covered this topic in some detail in last year’s post The Dark Side of the Burning Man – Rape on the Playa. We’d prefer not to dredge it back up again, but once more, nothing has been done by BMOrg in a year, and the problem is still with us.

She IDENTIFIED her attacker and he had an accomplice. 
There are NO rape kits on the playa nor forensic nurses. Because my daughter did not want to be taken to Reno, questioned for a 9th time (she had already given descriptions and a report to the Pershing County officials on the playa) she was told no charges could be filed. When a victim is taken from the playa to Reno they are given a rape kit there, all of their clothing taken for evidence and then they’redischarged; with no way back to the playa, their belongings or place to stay. If the victim is in shock and still under the influence of dosing they are not able to make a rational decision or find help either.
There were two other women reporting the same drugging, strangulation and rape that night.

Again, we encourage BMOrg and the Burning Man Project to get on top of this issue in the community. This would be a good thing for a non-profit to spend their millions on. Put the rape kits there, and let the rapists be the first ones to challenge Burning Man’s chain of evidence in a Pershing County courtroom. Until that rapist wins their argument, the chain of evidence is not the issue. Getting the crime reported properly, including DNA evidence, is what we need to do. If you can build a city in the desert for 70,000 people in a month, with extremely experienced medical personnel, you can find a way to get rape kits on the Playa. What are you afraid of, BMOrg? The rapists, or the statistics?

This year, there were 12 sexual assaults at Burning Man. One of the rapes we’ve been told about happened at gunpoint on the open playa, and also involved an accomplice. The perpetrators are still at large.

From Reno’s News 4 TV’s Ask Joe:

Pershing County is considered the lead law enforcement agency when it comes to Burning Man. I checked with Sheriff Machado in Pershing County. He did not have complete numbers but I did a get partial list. There are 50 investigative cases which are now open and being investigated.   Machado says the crimes reported at burning man this year included open and gross lewdness, twelve sexual assaults, battery and various property crimes and DUI.  A total of 15 people were taken to jail.

So there were 50 crimes reported in total, 12 of those were sexual assaults; there were 15 arrests. In San Francisco this year, the crime rate for rapes for the first half of 2013 is 62/1000 – 6% of the population, which seems frighteningly high. The arrest rate is much lower at 10/1000, which is still 1% of the population being arrested for rape, every year. I hope someone can point out where I got my maths wrong. In Black Rock City, the crime rate for rape is 0.18 per 1000. Multiply by 26 to compare it to a half year, it would be 4.5% – so, statistically safer than San Francisco. 12 out of 68,000 means 0.01% of the people in our city get raped in the week we’re there.

The 12 rapes are still important, it’s 12 too many: we need to do what we can to make this number reduce to ZERO. No means no, even at Burning Man. At Burning Man, there’s plenty of people you can find who want to say “yes”, even if most people say “no”.

In general, a pretty good score for Burners, if Burning Man was a city the amount of crimes reported would be 0.7 per 1000; compared to San Francisco’s 29.41/1000 overall crime rate.

Mono County:

There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the increased use of sniffer dogs by police at Burning Man this year. This was not just crews being re-assigned from the US/Mexico border; this was also roadside checkpoints, apparently targetting Burners with bicycles obscuring their license plates, on I-395 near Mammoth Lakes in Southern California, a common route for Burners from San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles. It seems the checkpoints were specifically aimed at Burners because no DUI arrests were made, which CHP attributes to warnings about the checkpoint (ie. protect the locals, target the tourists).

Police made more than 20 felony drugs arrests from two separate operations. Although police don’t acknowledge specifically targeting Burners, they were aware that Burning Man was on, and warned locals of the checkpoints in advance. In many cases the suspects consented to the search.

Some Burners called for a ban on Mono County, who say they co-operated with the Nevada highway patrol and South Lake Tahoe police in the operation – again, making it look like Burners were targeted. The lack of Burners was absolutely felt by the businesses of Mono County, who lost their chance for extra revenue from the “Burning Man bump” to the cops – who maybe got a bit more revenue, but 20 counts of felony drug possession doesn’t sound like a huge payday.

From The Sheet, a site about culture on the East side of the Sierra Nevadas:

Some of this year’s Burning Man participants, also known as “Burners” have a beef with Mono County.

There was a banner at Burning Man about not stopping in Mono County,” said Walker Burger owner Teresa Gilleland at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. “It said to go around Mono County and not spend any money there.”

The annual art event and temporary community based on “radical self expression and self reliance,” according to its website, is held each summer in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This year the dates were Aug. 26-Sept. 2.

The complaints stemmed from Burners who felt targeted by law enforcement when driving through Mono County on their way to this year’s Burning Man.

Two law enforcement patrols seem to be the reason for the negative press. The first was a California Highway Patrol/Driver’s License Checkpoint held on Aug. 24 in Bridgeport. According to the press release from CHP, the checkpoint was held from 6:05-9:45 p.m. and resulted in three felony arrests and one misdemeanor citation. The arrests were made when one vehicle entered the checkpoint and smelled of burnt marijuana. The driver and two passengers in the vehicle were arrested for “felony possession of multiple controlled substances.”

A total of 341 vehicles were screened. No drivers were arrested for driving under the influence, which CHP attributed to the fact that it had publicized the checkpoint beforehand.

A second law enforcement effort called a saturation patrol was conducted by the Mono County Sheriff’s Department from Aug. 22-25 in various locations in the northern half of the County, according to a press release sent out on Aug. 28.

The purpose of the enforcement was to combat people trafficking illegal narcotics through and too our communities,” the release said. “With the assistance of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Bishop Police Department, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, and the Eldorado County Sheriff’s Office, the patrol was successful in netting 17 felony arrests. The abovementioned agencies supplied officers and drug sniffing dogs.”

war on drugs 3The drug haul included:

…possession of cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, and psilocybin mushrooms;  possession of psilocybin mushrooms; possession of a methamphetamine pipe and a used syringe; possession of cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, LSD, and marijuana; possession of Mdma, psilocybin mushrooms, GHB, and ecstasy; methamphetamine and marijuana; possession of GHB, ecstasy, MDMA, and Ketamine;  transporting LSD, ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine;possession of Adderall and Xanax without a prescription.

Back to the Sheet’s story:

Posts were made on Burning Man forums online about the activity. The following on us.reddit.com was titled, “WARNING: HWY 395 is a BUST through Inyo and Mono Counties.”

“The Inyo PD. Sheriff’s Dept. & CHP have made 17 felony stops all for various drugs, between Aug. 26 & 27. Most were various psychedelics. They have drug-sniffing dogs with them. They get 1 or 2 felony stops every now and then but right now they are targeting Burning Man travelers. Be extra careful if you have a car full of people in area from Ridgecrest to June Lake. This includes Bishop & Mammoth. I hate to see people who have stuff for personal use, who want to go out to the desert and have a good time, end up in jail with multiple felonies. Please be careful & warn anyone you know who is going. None of the people arrested were locals. Most were from LA and were groups of males with long hair.

“I’m not against the checkpoints, but if they’re being targeted that’s not cool,” Gilleland said. “I’m not sure what the Board can do but I heard it from three different loyal customers.”

Supervisor Tim Fesko said the checkpoint and patrols were “absolutely targeted to Burners.”

Fesko, who owns the Meadowcliff Resort in North County said he usually sees a lot of Burners but did not this year. In addition, tow guys on their way home from the event stayed at his place and confirmed the buzz.

It’s not right to target them,” Fesko said.

Mono County Economic Development Director Dan Lyster and Economic Development Manager Alicia Vennos felt it was a huge negative impact.

“In the future, consult with department heads,” Lyster said.

Vennos suggested using social media sites next year to be proactive and let people know Mono County is “Burning Man friendly.”

Mono County Sheriff Ralph Obenberger explained to The Sheet that the saturation patrol had been planned months in advance with multiple agencies involved.

“We were aware that this weekend did coincide with the possible travel dates of individuals attending the Burning Man gathering in Nevada,” Obenberger said. “When the Sheriff’s Office observes any type of traffic infractions, violations of the law, or suspicious activity, etc. we will take action such as a consensual encounter, traffic stop, etc. and conduct an investigation.  Through that investigation the deputy will at some point give the individual a warning, citation, or arrest the individual for a violation of law.  The Sheriff’s Office does not target any person just due to their associations with groups.  We do not and will not condone illegal activity in Mono County (e.g. DUI’s, narcotics possession, narcotics trafficking, etc.).”

Obenberger said the Sheriff’s Department conducts saturation patrols several times a year and he believed the last one was held in the south county area.

“In talking with my staff, most individuals contacted that weekend did not or would not identify themselves with being associated with Burning Man, nor would it matter if they did,” Obenberger said. “If a deputy has legitimate probably cause to search a person or vehicle, they will. If the deputy has the opportunity to arrest an individual for violating the law, they will, it’s their job. It does not matter if that person is heading to Burning Man, heading through the county on a business trip, or heading to one of our local communities, if they break the law they risk going to jail.”

Obenberger said he was sorry if any business owner(s) believed that the saturation patrol caused them a loss of revenue, “but the Sheriff’s Office is tasked to ensure the safety of both residents and visitors of Mono County. I will continue to direct my staff in a manner to ensure the safety of all individuals in Mono County.”

San Diego

A pediatrician was busted in a Burning Man-related drug raid.

war on drugsNow, something’s not right about this. They are character assassinating this doctor who should be innocent until proven guilty in a court, and throwing Burners under the bus at the same time.

First, there were two people in the car, the doctor has not been found guilty of anything yet. Before they smear his reputation, he should be allowed to hear the charges against him in the Court, and mount a defense.

Next, the report says it happened “outside Burning Man”, but the sheriffs who are commenting about it are in Mono County – South of Carson City. It’s not even Nevada, it’s the area around Yosemite. Where cops should’ve been more concerned about protecting people from wildfires, than intercepting Burners. So, there was a traffic stop in California, 2 people were arrested because drugs were in the car. What does this have to do with Burning Man? Why are they saying on TV that the doctor was arrested outside Burning Man? Did they co-ordinate with other cops (like they said they did, eg. Nevada CHP, South Lake Tahoe police) to wait to bust this guy – so that Burning Man could be blamed?

According to Mono Count DA’s office, the doctor was not actually arrested for anything.

This seems to me more than just a dispute between Burning Man and the Pershing County cops. This seems to go way up the food chain. This doctor seems like a good guy; in a corrupt system, good guys finish last. The bad guys target the good guys. It’s not right that he gets crucified in the media and gets kicked out of his job, because someone in the cops wants to smear Burning Man.

San Francisco

In other news, 60 lbs of Molly was seized in the Mission, a couple of weeks before Burning Man.

23 comments on “Crime Shenanigans 2013

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  10. the rape kit issue has been covered again and again in detail by health professionals and the BMORG. the conclusion is that rape kits on playa will not be accurate, legal and will be thrown out of court. The notion that a rape victim will not drive to take an accurate and legaly valid rape kit in reno or sparks is bullshit. Its their choice if they want to be driven round trip to get the kit. Further: most of what are called “sexual assaults” are not rape and dont require a kit. Further cops can arrest on playa without doing a rape kit in advance. Your post is a red herring.

    • “BMOrg has concluded that it wouldn’t stand up in court” – does this mean it really wouldn’t stand up in court? Or just that, BMOrg has got that opinion, and they’re sticking to it?
      Do we have any words on the issue from lawyers, doctors, or health/law enforcement professionals? Why not provide the rape kits, and then test the court system – what does BMOrg have to lose by doing this? Even if the DNA evidence was thrown out of the court for some reason, the rapist could still be convicted based on other evidence.

      • Burners who are lawyers, doctors, etc. have weighed in on the various discussion about rape kits. It’s not about BMOrg lose something. It should be about the victim. Taking a sexual assault case to trial is pretty tramautic; lots of sexual assault victims end up not pressing charges because they don’t want to deal with a defense attorney trying to convince the jury that they “asked for it”. It’d really suck to go through the added trauma of a trial, and then have the evidence thrown out and see your rapist acquitted. That’s why it’s not worth pursuing rape kits on playa. You’re more concerned about finding another thing you can bash BMORg over, then you are about victims of sexual assault.

      • This is BMOrg’s response: “we already looked into it, and the victims wouldn’t want to go through the trauma of a trial, only to lose the whole thing because the rape kits got thrown out”. We’re not looking for things to bash them with, they bash themselves with this kind of attitude. It’s not helping things. This post has been written at the request of members of the community who feel strongly about the issue. I agree with them. How is this bashing BMOrg? It’s them making these decisions and sticking to these policies, despite the city doubling in size since they were made, and rapes continuing to occur. We’re not making the policies, we’re not doing the rapes, we’re saying THIS IS BAD AND IT HAS TO STOP.

        Why can’t BMOrg and the 100+ LEOs they’re paying $3 million to, have the right equipment on the Playa to collect evidence of ANY crime – particularly this one? Can Burners help them to figure this out? Because, we’re smart, and there’s a lot of us, and we REALLY want to help sort this issue out.

        To your point Andrew, I care for victims of any crime, but I care more about PREVENTING this type of crime, which I believe is best done through community education and awareness. This is MUCH more important than your “10 Principles”.

    • How dare you call yourself Larry Harvey and pretend to take the BMORG’s stance on this issue? I do agree that rape kits are a red herring- the issue is actual RAPE. I also agree that Burning Man is a city like any other and scum bags clearly come there; however, it is not presented as such and herein lies the problem. People let their guard down and take something from a stranger- because “gifting” is one of 10 principles. A young woman takes slice of watermelon, never suspecting the watermelon was dosed and the “fellow burner” was a rapist. Yes, this is a true story. Thank you, Burners.me for continuing to bring the issue to light.

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  12. Great article. Makes you wonder why so many law enforcement resources are spent ‘policing’ Burning Man & burners. It’d be interesting to see a comparison of the ‘crime’ & arrest rates from EDM festivals (Coachella etc) to see whether Burning Man is disproportionally targeted (as I suspect it is).

    • lol, over a hundred at beyond wonderland, about 70 at LIB, but the cops case those places hard. you guys think it’s getting bad out there now? if they get serious it’s gonna get way worse.

  13. “I hope someone can point out where I got my maths wrong.”

    From what I can read, those 62 rapes in SF are *total* reported YTD for the first half of the year, out of a population of 843,402 according to the document. The /1000 figures listed in the line above are calculated summaries based on the Total Violent and Total Property sums, which I believe is what misled you into thinking that it was 62/1000.

    The 6-month figure would actually be 62/843,402, or 0.07/1000 for rape in SF. Compared to the 1-week figure of 0.18/1000 for Burning Man, or more appropriately the 4.5/1000 for six months, and Burning Man doesn’t look as rosy.

    Perhaps Burning Man is more dangerous in that regard – an atmosphere of sensory overload where disoriented individuals are common, which may make it easier for predators to operate with impunity. Perhaps attendees of BM are more likely than the general populace to report any sexual assaults. Perhaps the surprisingly low (IMO) reported rape rate in SF is a commentary on a society that doesn’t trust law enforcement to adequately follow up on and prosecute sexual assaults, and so fails to report them in the first place. Perhaps the discrepancy is something else.

    At any rate, I strongly agree with your assessment that “we encourage BMOrg and the Burning Man Project to get on top of this issue in the community.”

    • thanks Andrew, this seems to make more sense. And means that Burning Man is much more risky than San Francisco, for reported rape

      This issue is best addressed preventatively, and pre-emptively. We’re out here trying, and being pushed to do so by readers, but we’re just one amateur blog. It’s BMOrg who can really educate the community.

  14. We were stopped in Eureka, NV at the same time as two other “Burner” vehicles on our way to Black Rock City. The only questions they had for us concerned marijuana; whether we used it, the last time we used it, if there was any in the vehicle etc etc over and over again. You can’t tell me that we were not profiled or targeted. No tickets or arrests, just pure hassling.

  15. Thank you for bringing this to light!! A few thoughts: In the “default” world stats show that 1 in 5 rape victims actually report it. One would think the number of unreported rapes at Burning Man would be even higher.
    Plus, we don’t talk about it, so we create a false sense of security- the 2012 crime stats were never published. It is deplorable the BORG has not gotten in front of this issue and that the police are more interested in personal drug possession than in protecting us from violent criminals.

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