Image: Frank Giustino
For the last 4 years, the departing Pershing County Sheriff Machado has tried to find retired cops to work Black Rock City. This led to an amazingly low number of arrests last year:
1 sexual assault
1 domestic violence
Unfortunately, the new Sheriff doesn’t see that as a good thing. He wants to replace the old-timers with regular duty cops, many of whom probably hate the idea of going to Burning Man. It sounds like most of the locals are not supportive – and before you cry “but Burning Man brings so much into the Nevada economy!”, look at a map – almost none of that money is going to Pershing County, capital Lovelock.
From the Reno Gazette-Journal:
New Sheriff To Crack Down On Burning Man Crime
Burners, beware. There’s a new sheriff in Pershing County, and he intends to crack down on crime at this year’s event in the Black Rock Desert.
Image: Jerry Allen via RGJ
“We don’t have the personnel to issue citations to 70,000 naked people on the playa, but we will be upholding the law to the best of our ability,” said Jerry Allen, a 39-year-old former deputy who replaced former Pershing County Sheriff Richard Machado in January.
“Burning Man brings nothing to Pershing County except for heartache,” Allen said.
Machado had a relatively Burner-friendly approach, according to many Burner accounts of law enforcement protocol in recent years. He hired retired officers for Burning Man patrols, according to Allen.
A U.S. Bureau of Land Management operational assessment of the 2014 event said Machado halted the prosecution of marijuana possession charges…
Allen, a 36-year resident of Pershing County, is based out of Lovelock, a town one-tenth the size of Burning Man’s temporary population that is three hours from the playa.
“They’re infamous for asking what do you do the rest of the 360 days of the year,” Allen said of Burning Man’s organizers.
The bucolic, conservative town shares its namesake with the nearby men’s medium-security prison and a World War II gunnery range, and the general population is uncomfortable with what goes on at Burning Man, especially considering children are out there, Allen said.
Allen said he will be enforcing all laws outside of restrictions on nudity while he and his deputies work at Burning Man.
“We don’t change the laws when Burning Man comes to town,” Allen said.
Burning Man organizers said they are not concerned by Allen’s staunch approach because far fewer Burners are breaking laws than Allen suspects.
“We’ve been working with (Allen) since his election, and he’s been involved with all of the large coordination efforts,” said Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham. “It’s an ongoing process on education, but he hasn’t been out there for a few years, so he hasn’t seen the progress we’ve made in recent years.”
Typical BMOrg style – use the media to criticize the public officials for not knowing what they’re talking about.
A major crimes team consisting of both county-contracted officers and federal agents charged one individual with sexual assault, four with narcotic violations, one with domestic violence and two with trespassing, according to a BLM operational assessment of the 2014 event.
But the BLM’s assessment, published earlier this year, hints that Allen’s suspicions that crimes outnumber arrests are not entirely unfounded. The assessment states:
“Throughout the event, threshold levels of drug possession for adoption of a case for prosecution by PCSO (Pershing County Sheriff’s Office) were unclear and inconsistent. Early in the event, it was clearly established any cases involving the possession of marijuana would not be adopted by PCSO for prosecution. For all other controlled substances, the thresholds changed throughout the event. Conversely, threshold levels for federal prosecution were established well in advance of the event and provided in writing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
The BLM assessment, however, praised Machado in the same section:
“The success of BLM and Pershing County integration is largely attributed to PCSO Sheriff Richard Machado’s vision and leadership. … Sheriff Machado understood the value and efficiency of law enforcement integration.”
…Allen, who said that the hiring of retirees likely contributed to the low number of arrests last year and in years past, said enlisting his active-duty deputies and other active-duty officers would ensure that law enforcement officers are trained and prepared to take the appropriate actions needed to make Burning Man safe and secure.
The last time he worked the event, four years ago, was the last time the playa had active-duty officers, he said, recalling about three dozen arrests that year.
He also is increasing the number of officers at the Burn this year to 31, four more than last year, he said.
31 cops from Pershing County – and he wants more than triple the number. For 8 arrests in 8 days!
Were Burning Man to provide more funding to the county, Allen would also hire more officers, 100 more to be specific.
“Burning Man taxes this county. We don’t have the services to provide them. Pretty much everything they buy, they buy outside,” Allen said. “I’m not saying we need to make gobs and gobs of money. I’m glad they can bring economic interest to Nevada, but they leave Pershing County high and dry.”
The Burning Man population-based stipend that the organization grants to Pershing County each year does not cover the county’s troubles, Allen said.
Last year, Pershing County received $240,000, Burning Man officials said, of which $196,000 went toward covering the costs of the sheriff’s office’s time and resources invested in Burning Man. Burning Man will be allotting about the same amount of money this year.
Burning Man also pays for the cost of prosecuting felony crimes related to the event, said Graham, the Burning Man spokesman. Additionally, the organization provides trailers, power, water, pumping, showers, toilets, radios, meals and fuel for the sheriff’s office on the playa.
Washoe County will receive $108,000 to send eight law enforcement officers to the event, along with additional services, Graham said.
While Allen believes that the stipends are unbalanced, considering the services that Pershing County provides and Washoe County does not, Burning Man said the comparison itself was unfair.
“The deputies of each county get paid different amounts year-round due to cost of living, union rules, etc. This differential has nothing to do with Burning Man. The fact that each county pays its deputies different amounts is not a Burning Man issue,” Graham said. “Comparing the contracts is apples and oranges for other reasons also. Some officers only work for a day, others for two weeks. Some work overtime; some don’t.”
Be careful out there, Burners. Remember that even though medical marijuana is now recognized in Nevada and they have reciprocity laws that recognize prescriptions from other states, this event takes place on Federal land and the Bureau of Land Management Rangers, FBI, and DEA are all Federal agents.
Image: Frank Giustino
Here’s some of our earlier tips for dealing with LEOs:
Prepare for the Playa Police
24 Tips From Burners On Gate Safety
More Safety Tips
Keep Calm and Know What You’re Up Against
And some general tips:
Condition Alpha – Can You Handle The Blow
Surviving The Dust At Burning Man
Surviving Burning Man: First Timer’s Guide
Relationship Survival at Burning Man: What You Need To Know
[Update 8/23/15 8:08pm]
Thanks to Belinda for sharing this. Sheriff Jerry Allen has taken to social media to clarify his position:
Before too many people get riled up about this article. Remember I can only speak for the Sheriff’s Office, and not the entire county as a whole. I appreciate ‘Burner Weber’s comments, as a firm believer in the Constitution, and welcome all responses. I will also be on the playa for the festival, and am open to conversation then as well. However, please remember, as with most articles, some statements were exaggerated and some taken out of context to make a more controversial article. I have no intention on being ‘heavy-handed’. I am only wanting to provide for the safety and security of guests to our County, while ensuring the Laws of the State and County are adhered to-the same thing I was Elected to do for the entire County. I hope every attendee has a great and Safe Burn. Sheriff Jerry Allen
“I can only speak for the Sheriff’s Office, and not the entire county”…except that he did just win an election in the entire county.
“I have no intention of being heavy handed” – right, they just need to increase the number of cops from 27 to 100, because 4 people out of 70,000 were caught with drugs and 2 people were caught sneaking in (presumably that’s the only kind of trespass that the police need to deal with in Black Rock City). In 2010, back when it was all active duty personnel, the cops were quite literally heavy handed. At the Man burn, my friend got tackled to the ground and then three cops jumped on him, knee in the back, someone else pushing his head into the ground, full police brutality. He is not a big guy and was not resisting in any way, they had to strong arm him anyway – just because they suspected he was doing drugs. He didn’t have any drugs, he didn’t get charged with anything, but he got beat up and bruised, and lost a lot of enthusiasm for Burning Man.
It is not clear if the Pershing cops will be embedded in teams with BLM agents again this year.
It feels like we have come a long way since Burning Man settled their lawsuit with Pershing County, so we would encourage the new Sheriff Jerry Allen and his team to have a light touch with the hippies. SWAT team gear is not required. If you don’t want the event in your County, don’t punish the Burners for that – take it up with management.
[Update 8/23/15 8:28pm]
News for Nevada has a story from May 2015 that reveals many more details of what Sheriff Allen thinks of BMOrg. One interesting detail is that the single sexual assault charge was for a worker contracted to the event, who was still in the county jail 9 months after Burning Man ended.
Pershing County sheriff slams Burning Man settlement agreement
Allen says law enforcement restrictions illegal, funding inadequate
Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen has publicly slammed big corporations before and last week added Black Rock City LLC, the organization behind Burning Man, to his list. He believes a 2013 agreement between BRC and the county improperly restricts his law enforcement authority at the massive festival.
“I’m concerned that we’re being bullied by Burning Man into being subservient to them and subservient to the BLM,” he said of the settlement agreement. “I’ve been assured by our legal counsel and (BRC’s) legal counsel that’s not what it is but the text of the settlement agreement would dictate otherwise.”
Allen said the agreement’s budget allowance for county law enforcement, based on peak population, means he will be shorthanded and law enforcement will be inadequate at the festival. He believes that he, rather than event organizers, should determine county law enforcement costs to be paid by BRC.
“It’s my belief that the whole settlement agreement is unconstitutional,” Allen said. “The county commissioners can’t sign an agreement that binds me to do anything. The only thing I’m subservient to the county commissioners for is budgetary constraints. Unfortunately, the budget we’re allowed to have (by the agreement) is going to be one of the limiting factors for this and every year’s event.”
Due to the county’s limited law enforcement personnel, Allen must recruit active-duty law enforcement officers from other county agencies to assist with this year’s Burning Man. Another agency has already turned down his request for help due to officer safety concerns, he said.
“I’ve had at least one county deny me patrolmen based on the fact that we will not have adequate personnel from the sheriff’s office out there and at this point we don’t know if we’ll have adequate medical coverage if an officer gets hurt,” Allen said.
Allen said he is particularly displeased with apparent restrictions in the 2013 settlement agreement on the county’s enforcement of certain state laws at Burning Man. A passage in the agreement appears to eliminate the county sheriff’s authority over alcohol use and the control of minors attending the event.
“County agrees that for the duration of this agreement, it shall not attempt to separately regulate any matters addressed by the BLM permit including without limitation the use of alcohol and presence of children at the event,” the agreement reads.
The agreement also limits the county’s law enforcement budget for Burning Man according to the event’s “peak population.” However, Allen said he and his deputies must deal with more than just the “burners” who purchase tickets, including thousands of BRC volunteers, contractors and children at the event. A worker charged with sexual assault at the 2014 event remains in custody at the county jail.
“The paid participants are the vast majority, but at a 70,000-person event, probably roughly 10,000 are not paid participants,” Allen said. “We are only budgeted according to what they say are paid participants. We don’t get any funding for those 20 percent extra people but we still deal with them. We still have a person in our jail on a charge of sexual assault who was a contractor at the event.”
BRC’s 2014 Site Occupancy Report lists daily numbers of paid participants plus daily totals of BRC staff, crew and workers at the event. The event peak totals were listed for Aug. 29, 2014, at 65,922 participants and 9,312 workers for a “total bodies on site” of 75,234 that day, according to BRC.
For a peak population of 70,000 to 79,000 at the event, the settlement agreement specifies a payment to the county of $275,000 for integrated law enforcement or $475,000 for separate law enforcement.
Allen is less than pleased with other parts of the settlement agreement, including BRC’s requirements for a press release from the sheriff within three days of the event and an After Action Report to BRC from the sheriff’s office within 14 days of the event. Burning Man is again being extended by two days in an attempt to reduce highway traffic before and after the event, but the settlement agreement describes the festival as an eight-day event. In addition, other assemblies on the playa sponsored by BRC during any two week period between June 1 and Labor Day are defined as Burning Man events.
Nudity is considered self-expression at the event, but Allen questioned why Burning Man participants should be exempted from state laws that are applied to all other visitors and residents of the county.
Allen said he won’t have enough deputies or jail cells to arrest and house thousands of violators but his deputies will respond to complaints of inappropriate behavior and/or obscenity involving minors.
“We will never have enough personnel to effectively police the nudity (at Burning Man),” he said. “However, taking a hands-off approach is not fair to the rest of the citizens of Pershing County. You can’t walk around nude anywhere else in this county without somebody contacting law enforcement. It’s not allowed here, it shouldn’t be allowed there. The rules are the same for everybody.”
Undersheriff Tom Bjerke pointed out that exposing children to nudity is strictly prohibited in Nevada and those who violate state laws will be prosecuted. BRC now promotes the festival as family friendly, although in previous years organizers had discouraged attendance by minors, Bjerke said.
“If Burning Man would make it an 18-years and over event, that would solve many issues out there,” Allen said. “So many law enforcement issues would go away. There would still be issues because their motto is ‘radical free expression’ and people interpret that to mean they can do whatever they want.”
In 2009, the FBI reported an average of 1.7 law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents patrol cities in the West. By that standard, Allen said he needs 136 deputies to adequately patrol a total of 80,000 or more participants, staff and contractors expected at Burning Man’s Black Rock City north of Gerlach.
[Note: this is an apples and oranges comparison, because there are also 150 BLM agents and 8 Washoe cops, bringing the total to at least 189. -Ed.]
Last year, the county sheriff had a staff of 24 deputies at the event, according to Allen.
“There’s enforcement issues and a huge limiting factor is the budget they (BRC) proposed with no justification for where that budget came from,” Allen said after last week’s meeting in Lovelock with BRC and the BLM. The next meeting between stakeholders was scheduled for this Tuesday in Reno.
Allen said partial law enforcement integration with the BLM is acceptable but only at his discretion on a case-by-case basis. If a major incident occurs, his deputies and the federal agents will back each other up but otherwise the two agencies have separate law enforcement objectives and procedures, he said.
“I’ve told BLM we will for the most part be partially integrated,” Allen said. “There are events out there that I can see partial integration would be a benefit but I can see other cases where being tied to the BLM would be a bad thing for the sheriff and the state. As the sheriff of Pershing County, I have to make sure I’m not setting bad precedents for the other sheriffs in the state.”
Allen said he would prefer no settlement agreement or cost negotiations with BRC regarding county law enforcement budgets and procedures. He cited a Washoe County law enforcement contract that dictates costs and policies at the event and believes that’s why Burning Man isn’t held in that county.
“Pershing County has set a terrible precedent for the state where Burning Man is concerned and it continues to get worse every year,” Allen said. “No other private entity that comes to the county gets to dictate terms on how county services will be provided or how money will change hands.”
By challenging BRC, Allen knows he’s up against powerful political clout and deep pockets. After previous settlement agreements with Pershing County were knocked down by former District Court Judge Richard Wagner in 2012, BRC sued the county then successfully lobbied state lawmakers for legislation (AB 374) giving county officials the option to exempt permitted public land events from county licensing fees and ordinances. Pershing County officials agreed to exempt Burning Man and the settlement agreement was signed in 2013, but BRC’s federal litigation against the county continues.
“Burning Man’s main hold over the county is they can out-money us in court.” Allen said. “The county festival ordinance was based on state law and when the county realized we have to abide by state law like any other county, Burning Man took exception to that and took us to federal court.”
Under the current settlement agreement with BRC, Allen said his law enforcement resources will be far below what he considers the minimum required to ensure public safety at the counterculture festival.
“I’m willing to make this statement on the record,” he said last week. “The way it stands now, I cannot adequately provide for the safety of participants at Burning Man because of the limitations of the settlement agreement, the limitations of our county’s resources and the fact that, at any given time, if we don’t abide by those terms, Burning Man is willing to take us back to federal court.”
Requests for comment from the BLM were not returned as of press time Wednesday morning.
[Update 8/23/14 11:52pm]
Kudos to A Balanced Perspective for contributing this detailed update to the history, with information from Burning Man’s Afterburn reports.
Who Watches the Watchmen?
The links, and statements, are from the 2009, and 2010, Burning Man Afterburn Reports, within the Internet Archives.
The new Sheriff Allen laboured at Burning Man for the most horrible prior Sheriff Ron Skinner, in 2009, and 2010, but, he did not labour at Burning Man for the prior Sheriff Machado, in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, whom was more professional in his actions.
The new Sheriff Allen of Pershing County, in replacement of the prior Sheriff Machado, desires to behave in a most unprofessional manner, similar of the prior Sheriff Ron Skinner, hiring his mates to abuse hippies, in regards of ‘The PCSO LEO team arrived on playa with what appeared to be a rather specific agenda. This agenda seemed to be fueled by their sense of morality and personal values, and they seemed intent upon imposing that set of values and moral judgments on the Burning Man community and the citizens of Black Rock City.’ in addendum of ‘The problem that had existed before, such as inadequate training, lack of experience of the sub-contracted individual LEOs’…
2009 Sheriff Ron Skinner, mate of the new Sheriff Jerry Allen
‘Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement’
‘Pershing County is a rural Nevada county, has a small population, and has a total law enforcement force that is much smaller than the contingent of law enforcement that the PCSO seems compelled to have in Black Rock City. For the last several years, this problem has been addressed by having Washoe County off-duty LEOs working under contract for PCSO on playa. The state law enforcement Officer in Charge has, for all of these years, been a WCSO sergeant or lieutenant. Quoting from the 2008 LEAL Afterburn: “These relationships (with state law enforcement) are characterized by professionalism, timely and appropriate response and active and open communications.” The same cannot be said for Burning Man 2009..
PCSO decided this year to not contract with any WCSO LEOs. This created several significant problems. PCSO contracted with 40 to 50 different individual LEOs, who came mostly from other rural jurisdictions within the state of Nevada. These contract LEOs were bereft of experience in working the very unique environment of Black Rock City, they had no event-specific training before they arrived on playa, they received almost no event-specific training when they arrived on playa, and they usually only worked a day or two before being replaced by another inexperienced LEO. As might be expected, numerous problems arose in regards to understanding the dynamic aspects of the Burning Man event, communicating with Black Rock City citizens, and utilizing (or not utilizing) the extensive Burning Man infrastructure elements in place to assist law enforcement such as the Black Rock Rangers, the LEAL Team, the Emergency Services Department, the Burning Man dispatch and communications systems, etc. However, that was not the worst of it.
The PCSO LEO team arrived on playa with what appeared to be a rather specific agenda. This agenda seemed to be fueled by their sense of morality and personal values, and they seemed intent upon imposing that set of values and moral judgments on the Burning Man community and the citizens of Black Rock City. The specific incidences and issues will not be listed here, but it can be reported that the moral code they chose to impose was characterized by behaviors that could be described as consistent and by an attitude that could be characterized as fervent and zealous.’
‘Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement’
‘This paragraph is copied from the 2009 LEAL Afterburn: “Pershing County is a rural Nevada county, has a small population, and has a total law enforcement force that is much smaller than the contingent of law enforcement that the PCSO seems compelled to have in Black Rock City. For the last several years, this problem has been addressed by having Washoe County off-duty LEOs working under contract for PCSO on playa. The state law enforcement Officer in Charge has, for all of these years, been a WCSO sergeant or lieutenant. Quoting from the 2008 LEAL Afterburn— “These relationships (with state law enforcement) are characterized by professionalism, timely and appropriate response and active and open communications.” The same cannot be said in this 2009 Afterburn Report for Burning Man 2009.”
2010 was the second year that Pershing County, under Sheriff Ron Skinner, has chosen to attempt to manage the Burning Man event without outside counsel or assistance. The result continued to produce unsatisfactory results. The problem that had existed before, such as inadequate training, lack of experience of the sub-contracted individual LEOs, and lack of understanding of the Burning Man infrastructure (e.g., the Black Rock Rangers), as well as to how to utilize that infrastructure, continued.
It all began with a scheme by the PCSO to utilize horseback mounted patrols in Black Rock City. Their basic rationale was to be able to “move a crowd” during a riot. The fact that there has been nothing even resembling the smell of a riot in the 25-year history of Burning Man did not deter them from this position. A very strong set of objections then arose from Burning Man as well as other cooperating agencies such as the Nevada State Department of Health. Issues were horse poop on the playa, participant safety issues, and even safety issues for the horses themselves.
Because of these pressures, PCSO withdrew their intent to “test drive” the concept in Black Rock City early in the week, still insisting that they would keep the horses in reserve (they had already delivered them to a small farm close to the event). Then, evidently angered or embarrassed by this episode, PCSO, for the rest of the week, refused to attend the 3:15 Daily Cooperators Meeting attended by all of the agencies and law enforcement groups working the event. This created considerable communication and coordination problems. However, in fairness to the PCSO contingent, the Burning Man LEAL Team Manager was able to communicate with PCSO by journeying to the Law Enforcement compound and finding the PCSO personnel on duty.’
2011 Sheriff Richard Machado, with whom the new Sheriff Jerry Allen did not desire to labour at Burning Man
‘Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement’
‘1) A new Sheriff, Rich Machado, was elected in Pershing County.
2) Pershing County’s new Sheriff created perhaps the best community-based policing effort ever seen at our event.
3) Pershing County law enforcement officers were competent, professional, acted as positive collaborators, exercised open communication and tact in their relationships, and, in general, behaved in the best interests of the citizens of Black Rock City. In addition, while they did all of that, they helped to keep the city safe as they made it secure.’
2012 Sheriff Machado
‘Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement’
‘1) Pershing County’s Sheriff created perhaps the best community-based policing effort ever seen at our event.’
2013 and 2014 Sheriff Machado.
The BMOrg jumped the shark, thus, they did not report on the most unprofessional police behaviour at Burning Man of 2013, or on the police behaviour at Burning Man of 2014, within their Afterburn Reports.
[Update 8/25/15 1pm]
The Sheriff has told a local news station that he doesn’t have the manpower for a crackdown, and once again the media has sensationalized a Burning Man story. YMMV
He’s going to cite people for smoking weed and bust them if they are naked and there is a child around.