Cops at Burning Man, 2012. Image: Simon Pearce | Flickr (Creative Commons)
New Sheriff Jerry Allen was reportedly going to crack down on crime at Burning Man this year. When the story hit the media, he quickly back-pedalled, saying “I have no intention of being heavy-handed” and “there is no crackdown, I was misquoted“ .
Well, it sure looks like a crackdown to me, with the highest number of arrests ever reported at Burning Man – and a still unknown number of citations. The supposedly underfunded Pershing County Sheriff’s Office managed to arrest 41 people, about 6 times as many as last year – and about as many as the previous 5 years combined. They also issued more than 600 citations, another record.
From the New York Times:
Scores of law enforcement officers meted out more than 600 citations and arrested dozens of people — nearly all of them for possession of controlled substances, like the hallucinogenic drugs that can make frolicking in scanty costumes in the desert seem like a kaleidoscopic adventure.
In other words, the party may have ended, but for the local courts, lawyers and busted participants, the headache begins…More than 40 of the revelers, known as Burners, were arrested, according to the sheriff’s office of Pershing County, the rural pocket of northwest Nevada where the festival takes place. The citation fines range from $100 to $500, said Rudy Evenson, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that shares policing responsibilities for the event with the sheriff’s office. Misdeeds ranged from environmental ones, like improper dumping, to drug use and possession.
Crimes this year included 25 counts of drug trafficking, and 1 each of kidnapping and failing to register as a sex offender. Significantly, there were no sexual assaults reported – a huge improvement on 2013, when there were 12 people taken to jail for that crime.
For the first time we get some 2014 numbers too. The 2015 and 2014 data here has mostly come from the Reno Gazette Journal, quoting emails from the Sheriff. If anyone else has any more information, please share.
2015 Arrest Statistics
from Pershing County Sheriff’s Office
Population Size (estimated):
70,000 paid participants
Total Population: 79,000
Total Cops: 192 – (150 BLM; 34 PCSO; 8 Washoe)
Total Arrests: 41
- Trafficking of a controlled substance: 19
- Possession of a controlled substance for sales: 6
- Trespassing: 3
- Warrant for failure to appear: 3
- Possession of a prescription medication without a script: 2
- Battery: 2
- Unregistered sex offender: 1
- Driving under the influence with accident: 1
- Assault with a deadly weapon: 1
- Battery on a public officer: 1
- Kidnap: 1
- Grand larceny: 1
Total Incidents: Unknown
Total Citations: 600+
2015 Traffic citations
(from Highway Patrol, Northern Nevada; partial information, as at 2/9/15):
Number of Stops: 245
Traffic Citations: 119
Fatal Crashes: 0
Speed Citations: 62
Seat Belt Violations: 2
DUI Arrests: 7
Drug Arrests: 0
Commercial Vehicle Inspections: 21
2014 Arrest Statistics
(from all law enforcement, including BLM)
Population Size (Peak, 8/29/14):
65,922 paid participants
Total Population: 75,234
Total Cops: 185 (150 BLM; 27 PCSO; 8 Washoe)
Total Arrests: 7
- 1 sexual assault
- 4 drugs
- 1 domestic violence
- 2 trespassing
[note: this adds to 8. Earlier the RGJ reported 8 arrests for 2014, now they are saying 7; perhaps charges were dropped, or perhaps 1 person was booked for multiple crimes. This case might also provide an explanation]
Total Citations: 392
Total Incidents: 1,902
- 334 public assists
- 860 traffic stops
- 520 verbal warnings
- 230 written warnings
- 392 citations.
- 104 were issued on the road entrance,
- 205 were issued for possession of a controlled substance (
- 117 marijuana,
- 30 ecstasy,
- 18 cocaine,
- 40 other
- 52 multiple drug types
- 50 motor vehicle violations.
While we’re at it, might as well thrown in some medical statistics. We’re hoping to get those for 2015, so we can see how CrowdRX fared compared to their predecessor Humboldt General.
2014 Medical Statistics
Total Patients treated: 2880 (according to BLM Director); 6100 (according to Afterburn report)
Drug overdoses: 71
Trauma incidents: 67
Alcohol Poisoning: 30
[Source: John Ruhs, BLM State Director, Nevada]
Here is the arrest data from previous years, as best as I have been able to assemble. They certainly don’t make it easy for Burners to find this stuff.
[Sources various 2001-2012, NYT / RGJ 2014, BLM official numbers 2010-2013, KRNV4 news 2013]
There have been some procedural changes, with the Sheriffs and BLM being integrated for a few years, and this year de-integrated again. So this may not be a straight “apples to apples” comparison, we could be missing some Pershing and Washoe County arrests as most of these figures have come from the BLM. According to local news reports, in 2013 15 people were taken to jail in Pershing County. Maybe some of these were later released without charge, or maybe this is in addition to the 6 arrests reported by the BLM. The anecdotal evidence we have is that arrests were way down under former Sheriff Machado; it is quite clear that his replacement has gone in the other direction.
The full story on 2015 arrests by Burning Man beat reporter Jenny Kane at the Reno Gazette-Journal has some other interesting information:
Whether participants felt that they were being watched more closely this year was up for debate. Some felt the law enforcement presence more than others.
“It’s noticeably more strict this year. They’re literally sitting out, and if you have any minor infractions, they’re nailing you,” Jim Pehkonen, of Salt Lake City, said during Burning Man. “When they pull people over, often if they do consent to a search, they take everything out and they put it on the side and if they find anything, they arrest you.”
During entry to Burning Man, anyone who did not consent to a search if stopped by law enforcement was denied entry to the event.
“In past years, they’ve used more discretion. This year, they’re wreaking havoc,” said Pehkonen…
BLM agents, who also serve as law enforcement at the event, made no arrests at the event this year.
That is very probably because Pershing County Sheriff’s Office process the arrests, and take the perps to their jail.
BMOrg pay for the prosecutions, so it looks like Sheriff Allen will be sending them a bigger invoice this year:
Pershing County receives funding from Burning Man to prosecute cases that result from criminal activity by participants at Burning Man, although Allen said in previous statements that the county needs more funding from the San Francisco-based nonprofit for the county to take on the “heartache” that comes with Burning Man.
[Update 9/12/15 2:45am PST]
Any Burners who did get busted might want to contact Lawyers For Burners.
Results from 2014
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.
[Source: Lawyers For Burners]
The New York Times quotes John Routsis from Lawyers for Burners, and tells a horror story about a Mom who got busted with DMT, shrooms and a kid in the car, and may now be facing a life sentence:
“You have these individuals go there to go to this experience, and they will sometimes partake in illegal narcotics, hallucinogens, as part of their rite of passage,” Mr. Routsis said. “Now there is a great consequence to that action, where there wasn’t beforehand.”
Lately, the arrests have been handled locally rather than by the federal government, which is not good news for the Burners: In Nevada, there are lengthy mandatory jail sentences for even small amounts of drugs. Even so, evidence from past years suggests that judges seldom throw the book at the celebrators.
One of Mr. Routsis’ clients is … 35, the owner of a cupcake shop… She was arrested at the start of the festival after a sniffing dog set off an alert on her car at a traffic stop in Washoe County, just to the west of the event site. [She] faces several charges, including drug possession and Level 3 drug trafficking, a felony that carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. One charge is related to her having her 7-year-old in the car with the drugs, which the sheriff’s office described as “significant quantities” of psilocybin — found in magic mushrooms — and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, another psychedelic.
[She] expressed dismay at the charges. “My family, friends and I go to Burning Man to awaken our consciousness and to become better human beings,” she said in an emailed statement.
Some infractions may be the result of culture clashes. In a 2012 case described on the Internet forum Reddit, a Burner said he had been arrested on child-endangerment charges by deputies who took issue with his permitting his 12-year-old son to be naked.
“I spend the night in Lovelock,” the parent said, referring to a Pershing Country prison, “and paid $885 to a bail bondsman on a $5,600 bond.”