How To Deal With Cops At Burning Man: 2017

See 2018 Edition

A guest post from Mark Atwood

How to deal with cops at Burning Man (2017 update)

by Mark Atwood

(Feel free to print out, share, and repost. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. I am not a lawyer. This document is not legal advice. If you are ticketed, cited, or arrested, consult with an attorney. )

* Do not consent to a search.

Never consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.”

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.”

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, of your clothing, of your possessions, of your car, of your truck, of your trailer, of your RV, of your tent, or of your camp. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s property.

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 if 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 it. “I do not consent to a search”.

* Being Questioned.

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 where your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to answer them, and you probably shouldn’t.

* Recreational drugs.

Never answer any questions about recreational drugs.

Remember, you never take drugs, you never carry drugs, you never supply drugs, you have no idea where to get drugs, you do not want any drugs, and you do not know anyone who does is the basics in learning how to deal with cops and how to get a job.

That includes cannabis in any form, in any amount. Cannabis is still not legal on BLM land, even for medical use. Having a medical card from any state is not a defense. The new Nevada personal use possession law is not a defense.

If you have a legal prescription to a Schedule II drug such as Adderall, Ritalin, OxyContin, and/or Methadone, keep your pills in their correct prescription bottle and locked somewhere safe. You can be charged if you cannot prove you have a legal prescription.

* Do not lead them to your camp.

They may try to make you lead them to your camp.

They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it. They may say “We are 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 are supposed to need a warrant to open it, or they are supposed to 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 your ID.

If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your correct “wallet name” as it is printed on your official ID. Cops are uninterested in arguments about “dead names”. Tell them your name as it is printed on your official ID, driver’s license, or passport. You do not have to show them your ID if they ask to see it. You especially do not have to go to your camp to get your ID for them.

If you are a not a US citizen and are visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport with you. If you are a resident alien on a visa (e.g. you have a “green card”), you do have to carry your green card with you. Sorry about that.

* 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 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.

* Being Arrested.

If they ever say anything like “you are under arrest”, or ever do anything to make you think you are being arrested, such as them 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 cars, transport vans, and holding cells are bugged. Assume the cops will lie about what you say to them. Assume everyone you meet from when you are arrested to when you are released will testify against you and will lie about what you say to them. You invoked your right to remain silent. Now use it.

* Alcohol.

The camps with open bars that are giving away booze may ask to see your ID to verify you are older than 21. You don’t have to show it to them, but they don’t have to give you free booze either, and they probably won’t, fearing a bust.

The state liquor cops will be there trying to bust your camp with stings. If you are giving away booze, even if it’s only 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 age by checking their ID.

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 is an expensive way to ruin your burn for your entire camp.

And even if the person 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, memorizing their name tags. They are supposed to be wearing visible name tags while in uniform. Yeah, right.

As soon as you get away from the cops, go 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 and turn in a Law Enforcement Feedback Form as soon as you can.

* Your camera.

When you see the cops, you may choose to use your camera to record them. The judiciary at all levels has clearly stated that everyone, including you, has the right to record the police, as long as you don’t physically obstruct them. Cops hate it, but too bad.

If the cops tell you to turn off your camera, don’t do it. If they threaten to arrest you for recording, keep recording.

They cannot lawfully order you to stop recording. They cannot lawfully order you or anyone else to delete photos or video. They cannot lawfully delete any photos or video themselves. If they do, they themselves are knowingly breaking the law, and that will be very useful in court.

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 at least 35 feet / 10 meters.

* “Undercover” cops.

The cops claim there are “very few” “undercover” cops at the event. This is a very carefully nuanced untruth.

There are cops at the event who are not “undercover” but instead are “plain clothes”. This means that instead of wearing uniforms or visible badges they are instead dressed up 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. Some of them have been doing this every year for more years than you have come to the event yourself.

People have been busted by a cop who was wearing only sparkles and a miniskirt.

If someone you do not know asks for drugs or offers to trade you anything for drugs, they are a cop. If you met them this year at this Burn, you do not know them.

If you met these two girls a few days ago looking at art out 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 and her girlfriend both are cops, and her coworkers are eagerly 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 someone who is injured or who is unable to take care of themselves? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if someone is hurt? What if you are really too high? What if you find someone who is dangerously out of sorts? What if you just can’t even?

Go to a BLACK ROCK RANGER or to an ESD VOLUNTEER. The Rangers or ESD will help deal with the situation, and if the cops are actually needed, the Rangers or ESD can summon the cops and can deal with the cops. If the cops are not needed, then the Rangers or ESD can summon the right help for you.

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, and on their chests, and on their backs, and on their vehicles. ESD have yellow shirts that say “Emergency Services” on them.

Have a great Burn!

26 comments on “How To Deal With Cops At Burning Man: 2017

  1. Why are cops in America assholes?

    Surely they are regular people with human emotions. I don’t get it.

  2. Cpt Smashys 24 tips on gate safety are good tips, and reports of the awful manner of the police misconduct on the playa.

    The 2017 Sheriff Report states of
    Within 2017, the Pershing County Sheriffs Office, Sheriff Allen’s report lists 57 arrests at the 2017 festival, with near to 53 of the arrests in due of drugs. There was a total of 125 misdemeanor citations, with 121 of those citations for minor illegal drug possession not amounting to sales or trafficking.

    The Reno Gazette Journal reports ‘The BLM has not made any arrests at Burning Man for several years, though it issued more than 400 citations last year’ in regards to the 2017 festival.

    Within the PCSO arrests, and citations, there were no arrests, or citations, solely for marijuana, all were in due of other drugs. I do not know of the answer of this, but, might the PCSO, in due of Nevada law, not be permitted to do arrests, or citations, for solely a small amount of marijuana? Might most of the U.S. BLM over 400 citations be in due of a small amount of marijuana? What might the citations in due of marijuana state, perchance, ‘Failure to observe closure order’? The BMOrg desires to hide the answers to these queries, might any person have the answers to these queries?

  3. All of this is great but does not work. In 2017 they had informant working undercover as gate check girl. Pulled over immediately after greeter for zero reason saying our trailer state plates were different from motorhome state plates.

    They detained and said they didn’t need warrant to bring dog and search. They cited the Carroll Doctrine. This has never ever been mentioned in any Jack Rabbit speaks, etc.

    This is all bullshit folks they pull you over and do as they please. This means we have to spend our $ fighting BS charges. Normal, professional people driving below speed limit, etc.

    Greeters said they see this happen in front of them all year long. When do we say enough as citizens? Is Burning Man working with them or for us?

    • What a shitty thing to happen. Yes, it is a police state. And no, saying magic words from the ACLU is no guarantee of anything. In fact, I’ve done better at times *not* following the ACLU’s advice.

      That said, if you didn’t consent to a search, then whatever they charged you with will probably -hopefully -get thrown out of court. Of course it’s going to cost money. Try Lawyers for Burners or the ACLU, who may take these cases pro bono or reduced fees.

  4. Don’t bring weed. Consume your other, more respectable drugs in a private area of your camp ONLY. Don’t walk around with drugs, if you need to reload, walk back to your camp. Don’t act like an idiot.

    That’s all the advice you really need.

  5. I’ve seen alot of people busted on the road before the road going in that’s 30 miles an hour, can’t remember the name, if your gonna smoke weed in your car take a bottle of air freshener for the final leg. ( don’t take drugs the playa will provide, for real) . Some cops are super cool, I helped them out and gave them honey from my bees, and they gave me a plastic honary police star. I still have it!!!

  6. Good advice is just stay away from cops. If you consume anything that is illicit you should just stay away from cops. Unfortunately the same folks that are tasked with segregating violent and dangerous people are the same folks that enjoy busting you for having a little pot or maybe some mushrooms. These people aren’t just doing a job. These people are doing this with enthusiasm. They bust people and then show as little character as making fun of the people they bust, searching your stuff and breaking things while they do it. The take whatever chance they can to escalate any situation to being a crime. There doesn’t have to be a victim even. They can even take your money and keep it(civil asset forfeiture). It’s only about the status to them that comes with busts, and a justification to their bosses for bigger budgets and more positions for their buddies. You can say they’re not all bad, the good ones outnumber the bad, etc. etc. while you know it isn’t true. Where are the good ones that speak out against the bad? If there were more good than bad then we’d hear the good ones coming out against the bad. We don’t because they don’t outnumber the bad. If you’re a good cop you realize pretty quickly that you’re outnumbered by the bad. You either quit because you see no chance of changing it, you become complacent and go along with it, or you become the same. The good cops get chased off or converted or even killed themselves. If you said things are complicated you’d be right. There’s one thing that will ALWAYS be true: If you are not on the side of peaceful people, you are on the WRONG SIDE.

    • All very true. I would add stay from cops period, even if you’re not consuming anything illicit. You never know when they’ll want to mess with you.

  7. Although, I think some of your advice is valid, you missed an entire section which should have been at the very beginning. “How to Deal with Cops at Burning Man.”

    Be nice. Say hello. Welcome them home to Burning Man. Give them a hug, (though ask for consent first.) Talk to them. Treat them like any other Burner with love, rather than with suspicion. Remember radical inclusion? This includes the people in law enforcement.

    Most cops at Burning Man volunteer to be there. They want to be there. They want to enjoy the event. Yes, arresting people who break the law is their job, but they would just as soon not have to do that during the week.

    You may not like that part of their job is to bust people with drugs. But it’s also their job to arrest people who assault or rape others. (Yes, both those things go on at Burning Man, more frequently than you might think.)

    And to the people above who recommend trying to evade cops, that’s just very poor advice. You go from a minor ticket to possibly dead in seconds. And to the person who refers to the CHP as a pig: Cops are people who are doing a job that we need as a society. What do you think the world would be without cops? You may not like what cops do all the time, and you may not agree with our drug laws. (I don’t.) But I’m going to bet you’ve had at least one experience where you said, “There’s never a cop around when you need one.”

    • Cops bust peaceful people and make a living doing it. This doesn’t help society and only makes a market for the bad people. Until they advocate for us and get on our side, they deserve NO respect.

      • I’m sorry you feel that way. It’s been my experience that if you treat a bad cop with respect he may stay bad or he may treat you with respect. If you treat a good cop with respect, you get the same in return. On the other hand, if you treat either the good cop or the bad cop with disrespect, they will come down hard on you. So purely from a self-preservation standpoint it seems to me its better to start by giving respect because you have some percentage of having that respect returned and getting off easier. With your philosophy, won’t you always be guaranteed to get the hard-ass cop back in your face?

  8. You should mention that the Black Rock Rangers have Law Enforcement Feedback forms available at their headquarters on the Esplanade and at their outposts at #@C and 9@C. If you have an interaction, good or bad with Law Enforcement, these anonymous forms give the folks at the org good information to work with in working with Law Enforcement.

    • It’s a bit like filling out a complaint form at your local police department headquarters. There are BRC Rangers who goddamn LOVE the police. I’ve seen them participate in camp raids. There’s a reason for the chant “We are not cops!” … It’s because in their little uniforms they start to act like them by the middle of the week.

      Even if the forms do arrive at BMorg, what power do they have to tell real-life officials what to do? None.

    • As Fannie suggests, is there any documentation of follow-up by the Borg with LE o the forms? I would suspect that they are just negotiation fodder.

      The “solution,” as I have suggested MANY times before, is to shop the venue every year. Find a place that wants the burn, and let locals know that next year is not a given. But that will never happen. Locals know that you will come back regardless of what they do. That’s why it’s now Burn Man.

      Oh, and that’s why I don’t go anymore.

  9. So question, I’ve experienced it and so have others.

    You get stopped for some PC (lets say light out, license plate not clearly visible and lit, whatever), interaction starts.

    Law enforcement informs you to wait while they bring a drug dog.

    Based on Rodriguez v. U.S., 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015) an officer who doesn’t have reasonable suspicion may not extend a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff. The officer who pulls a driver over may not prolong the detention “beyond the time reasonably required to complete” the stop’s “mission.”

    What is your next step when they ask you to wait? “Am I free to go?” “Am I being detained?” Is there a better way to indicate you are aware it is against the law for them to hold you longer than required based on no reasonable suspicion?

    I’ve personally be held up to 10min while a dog was dispatched. Unlike so many, I roll with a clean vehicle so wasn’t concerned about the outcome outside feeling my rights trodden on.

    Would value some legal opinion on this subject that doesn’t immediately turn the LE interaction sour and generate suspicion.

  10. No cop was ever born who isn’t a sucker for a finely-executed hi-speed controlled drift all the way around one of those clover-leaf freeway interchanges. Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. Your normal speeder will panic and immediately pull over to the side when he sees the big red light behind him… and then we will start apologizing begging for mercy. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop-heart. The thing to dowhen you’re running along about a hundred or so and you suddenly find a red-flashing CHP-tracker on your trail what you want to do then is accelerator.

    • I have done that 4 times in my life. Twice I actually got away with it, but twice I was caught. It’s hard to do 120+ on the freeway when there’s any traffic, and there’s always traffic. They can make traffic move out of their way. You can’t.

      The last time I did it, I realized he was gaining on my Mustang GT (top speed 144), so I tried to evade by pulling into an exit. I saw him head for the same exit, so I knew the gig was up and I pulled into a busy gas station to make sure there were plenty of people around.

      The CHPig comes out literally fuming, hand on gun holster (I hate when they do that -total a-holes), and snarls, “why were you trying to evade me?”
      I replied, calmly as I could with both hands on the steering wheel, “I wasn’t trying to evade you, officer. I didn’t know you were following me.”
      “Then why did you pull in here?”
      “I needed gas.”

      I got a ticket. I think I was lucky I didn’t get shot. Not sure if that would’ve worked had I been driving while black. Remember, they can kill you and at worst they might get a paid vacation from their jobs for a while. I wouldn’t recommend pissing them off.

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