Thanks to Mark Atwood for doing this once again. We’re not lawyers, this is not legal advice. Be careful out there.
Feel free to print out, share, and repost. This work is licensed under the CC-BY-4.0. I am not a lawyer. This document is not legal advice. If you are ticketed, cited, or arrested, consult with your attorney.
How to deal with cops at Burning Man (2018 update)
by Mark Atwood
* 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. 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”.
They may search you anyway. Once they start, they will trash all your stuff and dump it out on the playa. Do not give them consent once they start. They will not be more gentle with your stuff if you give them consent.
* 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 you probably shouldn’t.
They can ask you where your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to tell 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.
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 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, or Methadone, keep your pills in their correct prescription bottle and locked somewhere safe. If you need to carry any such prescription drugs with you, ask your pharmacist for a small bottle to keep just one day’s supply in, and keep that in your pocket. You can be charged if you cannot prove you have a legal prescription.
If the cops ask you details about your prescription, you do not have to answer them, and you probably shouldn’t. The only things they are lawfully allowed to ask will be printed on the prescription bottle.
* 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 keep your tent zipped closed when you are not in it. If possible, use opaque screens or sheets to block transparent window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. Reflective panels and reflective cloth are also good for keeping the heat of the sun out of 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.” They may search your tent anyway. Do not give them consent once they start. Once they start, they will probably trash your stuff, no matter what you say.
* 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. Tell them your name as it is printed on your official ID, driver’s license, or passport. You do not have to voluntarily 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, 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 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 with your campmates, or with your friends, or even with your family. Even your spouse. Assume all police cars, transport vans, and cells are bugged. Assume the cops will lie about what you say to them. Assume everyone you meet while you are being held will testify against you and that will lie about what you say to them. Your best defense will be being able to say you never said anything to anyone. You invoked your right to remain silent. Use it.
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.
The state liquor cops will be there trying to sting your camp. 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, to try to sting you.
An alcohol service bust is an expensive way to ruin your burn for your entire camp.
* Who Watches the Watchmen?
While the cops are dealing with you, you need to be memorizing the color and design of their uniforms and 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, promptly go to Center Camp or to a Black Rock Ranger outpost to fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form and immediately turn it in.
If you personally with your own eyes see the cops detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, do the same thing: memorize what you can and then fill out and turn in a Law Enforcement Feedback Form as soon as you can.
Each morning, all the feedback forms are read out loud in a meeting with the with the police leadership and the event leadership.
If the cops dump your stuff from your car, trailer, tent, or pockets out onto the playa ground, make sure you describe that in the feedback form. The Bureau of Land Management leadership have opinions about the cops trashing the playa.
* 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. Cops hate it, but too bad.
If a cop tell you to turn off your camera, keep recording. 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 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. Cops have been seen standing nearly naked on top of speakers next to mainstages, pointing out the use of cannibus to uniformed cops circling the dance floor.
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 someone sits down on a couch next to you, or in an art car next to you, and gets around to asking about drugs, they are a cop.
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 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 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. 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.
Black Rock Rangers are not cops. They really are there to help you, no kidding.
Have a great Burn!