Burner Mark has shared this advice on what to do if you have an encounter with the police on the Playa. Seems pretty helpful. He has just sent us (Aug 23 2015) an updated text for 2015.
We also published this guide last year, and shared these Gate Safety tips last week. 40% of Burners have never been to the event before; only 30% have been more than twice. Even if you’re a grizzled Veteran, it’s worth having a quick scan through this.
How to deal with cops at Burning Man
Do not consent to a search.
Never consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.” Even if you have nothing for them to find, ALWAYS say “I do not consent to a search.” Never consent to a search of your body or of your clothing, of your car, your truck, your trailer, your RV, or of your camp, or of your tent. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s property. The cops are trained to make you flustered and to “take command” of the situation. Or they can be “polite”: “Mind if we take a look around?” Yes, you mind. “I do not consent to a search.”
They can ask the other people in your group or in your car, not just the driver or leader. “Mind if we take a look?” You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.”
Even if they threaten you with arrest, or threaten to bring a sniffing dog, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”. Even while they are searching you or your stuff, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”.
Cops can ask you questions. They may say things like “We’re just talking”, or “What do you think of …?”, or “Can you help us out?” You do not have to answer their questions, and probably shouldn’t.
They can ask you were your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to answer them.
Never answer any questions about recreational drugs. Remember, you never do drugs, you never carry drugs, you never supply drugs, you have no idea where to get drugs, you don’t want any drugs, and you don’t know anyone who does. That includes pot, which is still illegal in Nevada and is still illegal on Federal land, even for medical use.
Don’t lead them to your camp.
They may try to get you to lead them to your camp. They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it, they may say “We’re going to your camp.” They will make it sound as if you have no choice. You do have a choice, and you are going to chose to not to lead them to your camp. Never lead them to your camp. If they really really insist on you leading them somewhere, then lead them to a Black Rock Ranger outpost.
Keep your tent closed.
Always zip your tent closed when you are not in it. If possible, use screens or sheets to block transparent window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. You may want to use a luggage lock to lock the zipper of your tent when you are not in it. If your tent is zipped shut, they need a warrant to open it, or they need your consent. They probably won’t have a warrant, and you are not going to give them your consent, remember? “I do not consent to a search.”
Your name and ID.
If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your correct name as it is printed on your ID. If you have your ID on you, you do have to show it to them if they ask. If you don’t have it on you, you do not have to go get it for them, and you never should. If you are a non-resident alien visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport with you.
Being Detained, or “Am I free to go?”.
The magic phrase is: “Am I free to go?” Keep saying it. As soon as they say “yes”, walk away immediately, swiftly, and without another word. Do not run, just walk.
If they write you a ticket, you must take it. Put it in your pocket, and then you say “Am I free to go?”
If they ever say you are not free to go, you say “Am I being arrested?”. If they say no you are not being arrested, you say again “Am I free to go?”. Keep it up as many times as necessary. Yes, it will sound like a stupid kid game, like “stop copying me”, but the game is very real with very real stakes, and this is their game to win, and yours to lose.
If they ever say anything like “you are under arrest”, or ever do anything to make you think you have been arrested, such as restraining you in any way, you must immediately say the following magic phrase (memorize it!): “I do not consent to any search. I hereby invoke my right to remain silent. I want to speak to my attorney.” And then you SHUT THE FUCK UP.
Do not say anything at all about your arrest or why you may have been arrested, until you are talking in private with your attorney. Not with those cops, not with any other cops, not with any onlookers, not with anyone else who was arrested, not with anyone who is being held with you. Not even with your campmates, or with your friends, or even with your family. Even your spouse. Assume the police car, transport van, and holding cells are bugged. Assume the cops will lie about what you tell them. Assume everyone else will testify against you. You invoked your right to remain silent. Now use it.
Alcohol and ID.
The camps with open bars that are giving away booze may ask to see your ID to verify you are over 21. You don’t have to show them, but they don’t have to give you free booze either, and they probably won’t, fearing a bust.
If you are giving away booze, including beer or wine, and the person you are about to give it to looks like they could possibly be under 21, you should verify their ID. The state liquor cops will be there, trying to bust you with stings.
Even if your camp is not running a public bar, random people will walk into your camp and ask for booze. You will almost certainly have an under-21 plainclothes liquor cop walk into your camp at least once during the week, trying to sting you. Be aware, an alcohol service bust can be rather painful and expensive.
And even if that dude asking for a free drink is not a cop, it’s rude and against the burner ethos to beg for a gift.
Who Watches the Watchmen?
While the cops are dealing with you, you need to be memorizing the color and design of their uniforms, and if you can, their nametags and their badge numbers. They are *supposed* to be wearing visible nametags. As soon as you get away from the cops, go soonest to Center Camp, or to a Black Rock Ranger outpost, and fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form and turn it in.
If you personally with your own eyes see the cops detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, it is an act of Civic Responsibility (Principle 7) and a Gift (Principle 2) to Participate (Principle 9) in the burner community to memorize what you can, and then fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form.
You may also decide get out your camera and start recording. The judiciary at all levels has clearly stated that you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t obstruct them. Cops hate it, but too bad. If the cops tell you to turn off your camera, don’t. They cannot lawfully order you to stop recording, they cannot not lawfully order you to delete photos or video, and they cannot themselves lawfully delete any photos or video. If they do any of these things, they themselves are knowingly breaking the law, and that will be very useful in court. If they threaten to arrest you for recording, keep recording.
If you ever see a cop order anyone to stop recording or to delete anything, make sure that goes on the Law Enforcement Feedback Form.
While you are recording them, never get in their way, and stay back 35 feet / 10 meters. That’s tazer range.
If they tell you to put your camera away and stop recording, keep recording.
“Undercover” and “plainclothes” cops.
The cops claim there are “very few” “undercover” cops at Burning Man. This is a very carefully nuanced untruth. There are cops at the event who are not “undercover”, but instead are “plain clothes”, which means they are not wearing uniforms and visible badges, but are instead dressed up in costume to look like burners. They do not have to tell you they are cops when you ask them. You will not be able to “sense” that they are cops, until they bust you. People have been busted by a cop who was wearing only sparkles and a miniskirt.
If someone is carrying a gun, they are a cop. If someone has a dog, and is not obviously a Gerlach local, a Native American from the local tribal areas, or a member of DPW, they are a cop. Especially if the dog is wearing a vest. If someone is driving along Esplanade after the the Gate has opened, and they don’t have a Black Rock Ranger logo or a DPW logo, they are a cop. (Report them via a Law Enforcement Feedback Form if you see them doing that.) If someone is sitting in an idling unlit truck out in the dark of deep playa, they are a cop.
If someone you do not know asks for drugs or offers to trade you drugs, they are a cop. If you met them this year, you do not know them.
If you met these two girls three days ago out the in deep playa, and they are really cute, and they went out dancing with you last night, and they just suggested that if you can supply some “favors”, you all can “party together” in your tent, they are cops. No, really, yes, she is a cop, and her coworkers are standing by to ruin your whole year.
What if I need “Police Services”?
What if you are lost? Or a camp mate is lost? Or your child is lost? Or you have found a lost child? Or you have found a lost fellow burner who is injured or is unable to take care of themselves? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if someone is hurt?
Go to a BLACK ROCK RANGER, not a cop. The Rangers will help deal with the situation, and if the cops are actually needed, the Rangers will summon them and will deal with them.
Know what the Black Rock Ranger uniform is, and how it’s different from the cop uniforms. Rangers wear khaki shirts and khaki hats with the Burning Man logo on their hats, on their chests, on their backs, and on their vehicles.
Have a great Burn!
Allison from the ACLU contacted to let us know that they will not have a formal presence at Burning Man from 2014, as BMOrg prefer to handle legal matters on their own accord now.
the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLUNV) would like to inform you that we will not be in attendance this year at Burning Man 2014. Unfortunately, the Burning Man organization had made the distinction that they will handle legal matters on their own accord.
In spite of this decision, we would like to inform you that the ACLUNV still cares deeply about protecting the rights of Burners on the Playa. And while we will not have a physical presence at the event this year, we are still interested in hearing from individual’s if they feel their civil liberties had been violated. To report an incident involving a violation of one’s civil liberties, one may file a Burning Man law enforcement specific complaint on our website at aclunv.org/burningman.
So, trust in BMOrg to protect your legal rights – or learn them yourself and stay out of trouble.
[Update 8/23/15 10:18pm]
If you do get caught, you can try Lawyers For Burners. They have released this useful update for 2015
From Lawyers For Burners:
Lawyers for Burners will continue to provide support and resources for Burning Man participants who are cited or arrested at the 2015 Burning Man Event. If you receive a citation from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), please fill out a feedback form on the top left tab, and Lawyers for Burners will respond with legal information and assistance in obtaining representation for your citation. If you were arrested by the Pershing County Sheriff, Lawyers for Burners recommends that you contact Reno, NV criminal defense attorney John B. Routsis; 571 California Ave; Reno, NV 89509 (775) 785-9116.
Alerts for 2015
Entering the Event and Driving on Gate Road
In recent years, the BLM has shifted its drug enforcement efforts from patrolling inside the Event to stopping vehicles as they enter the Event. While the BLM cannot freely enter your camp and search for drugs without a warrant, probable cause, consent or exigent circumstances, the BLM can stop your vehicle and create probable cause with its dogs. You do not have to consent to a search. Take great care while entering the Event and while driving to your camp on Gate Road, the outer ring of the Event. In 2013, about 85% of the participants who contacted Lawyers for Burners reported receiving citations while driving into the Event.
Participants reported being stopped for ticky-tacky motor vehicle infractions like driving 13 mph when the speed limit was 10 mph or obstructed rear license plate. Once stopped, participants reported being asked if they had any drugs and whether they would consent to a search of their vehicle. Some Participants reported that after they said no, the officer went back to his vehicle and returned with a drug sniffing dog. Some participants reported that it seemed like the officer caused his dog to “alert” even without the presence of drugs. This “alert” by the dog can become probable cause to search Participant’s vehicle.
If the BLM finds drugs in your vehicle, the BLM will issue you a citation for $525. If you wish to contest the citation or plea bargain the citation to a non-drug offense, contact Lawyers for Burners through the feedback form on this site. Contrary to what the officer may tell you, it is very unlikely that you will be arrested or evicted from the Event for drug possession. Be polite, know that you do not have to consent to any interrogation or search, and enjoy the rest of the Event. Lawyers for Burners will assist you after the Event.
Caution Driving Through Mono County
Attention Southern California Burners: the Mono County Sheriff Dept. conducted a “saturation patrol” on Hwy 395 during the 2013 Burning Man Event and arrested 17 people for felonies, mostly participants traveling to Burning Man. One participant told Lawyers for Burners that a Sheriff’s Deputy told him that his Department was “hunting” Burners. Take great caution when traveling on Hwy 395 through Mono County. Since Mono County is hostile to Burning Man participants, consider whether you want to support the economy of Mono County as you travel through.
Results from 2013
Every single participant who contacted Lawyers for Burners after receiving a drug citation at the 2013 Event was offered the chance to plea bargain the citation to a non-drug offense. The BLM offered to dismiss the drug possession citation if the participant agreed to plead guilty to a motor vehicle infraction. The BLM routinely reduced the $500 fine as well. Attorneys affiliated with Lawyers for Burners worked directly with the United States Attorney’s Office (the part of government that prosecutes citations written by the BLM) to accomplish these results. Lawyers for Burners acknowledges and appreciates the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Reno, Nevada for its management of the Burning Man citation calendars every year.
If Participants are unable to return to Nevada when their court date is scheduled, attorneys affiliated with Lawyers for Burners can represent you and make your court appearance for you. The cost of representation is usually only a couple hundred dollars. Lawyers for Burners can recommend attorneys who will represent participants and negotiate better plea arrangements for very reasonable fees.
All of the citations issued at Burning Man are for infractions (less than misdemeanors) and participants can simply pay the fine and be done. If the citation was for driving in violation of the “closure order” and a fine of $125, the cost of fighting the citation may exceed the harm of pleading guilty to the charged offence. But if the offense is possession of a controlled substance, pleading guilty to the charged offense could have severe personal and professional costs. Regardless, if you ignore the citation, the BLM can, and has, obtained arrest warrants for participants who ignore a citation.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS A COURTESY FROM LAWYERS FOR BURNERS AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL REPRESENTATION. THIS IS LEGAL INFORMATION, NOT LEGAL ADVICE, WHICH IS AN INTERPRETATION OF THE APPLICABLE LAW TO SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES. WE URGE YOU TO CONSULT A LAWYER FOR LEGAL ADVICE OR REPRESENTATION ABOUT A PARTICULAR LEGAL QUESTION OR ISSUE YOU MAY HAVE.