See the beauty behind the phenomenon at Black Rock.

First Stop for Burning Man Burners Is a Speed Trap

Heavy law enforcement presence as Burning Man crews head into the desert to set up for the event

By Josh Keppel
|  Friday, Aug 23, 2013  |  Updated 5:55 PM PDT
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    Many burners arriving to Black Rock City, NV were being greeted by law enforcement officers with sirens blaring.

    Here are some reasons why burners say police pulled them over:

    • Driving one mile over the posted 10 mph speed limit
    • Not using a blinker
    • License plate blocked by bike rack
    • License plate not illuminated

    “In 18 years on the playa, I’ve never seen a more aggressive police presence than what’s been going down today,” read an Instagram post by Aaron Muszalski, aka SFSlim.

    Muszalski, was the first to alert fellow burners to be aware when he posted a story showing one of the DPW vehicles, called El Couchino because it is an El Camino with a couch in the back, getting pulled over for a registration violation.

    But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

    “One DPW member was issued a $275 ticket for urinating on the playa, and threatened with being forced to register as a convicted sex offender,” Muszalski said.

    There are always a lot of police from a number of different agencies visibly patrolling Black Rock City, but citations for lesser infractions appears to be new.

    Some are speculating it has something to do with the fact that Burning Man has filed a lawsuit against Pershing County, Nevada over local government’s new fees for the event, from $180,000 in 2011 to over $600,000 in 2013.

    Participants complaining about rampant law enforcement is nothing new at Burning Man, but this does seem to be a worse start to the event than anyone can remember in terms of likelihood of getting pulled over.

    For many years, only four BLM officers were at the event in the week before it opened, and they enjoyed the event and came every year.  This year, because of the ramping number of people who arrive early, the initial number of early officers was to be 20, but that number may have gone down a little, according to someone with intimate knowledge of policing Burning Man, but who wanted to remain anonymous.

    While the gates to Burning Man don’t officially open until 6 p.m. Sunday night, each year thousands of people get Early Arrival passes to come in to set up art, camps or to volunteer with the organization.

    Wednesday night, as lightning struck the hills around Black Rock City, BLM officers waited at the T-junction after the Greeter’s Stations and pulled over numerous cars for any and all reasons.

    Chances are, if you didn’t get pulled over, it was because the officers were busy with someone else.

    This year, for the first time, BLM (Bureau of Land Management, a Federal agency that, according to their webpage “administers 264 million acres of public lands, located primarily in the 12 Western” and has Federal jurisdiction over the Black Rock Desert) officers will ride side-by-side with Pershing County Sheriffs, granting any and all jurisdictional rights in a stop.

    On Friday, Burning Man posted a “Law Enforcement in Black Rock City” entry to their Burning Blog saying, “While Black Rock City is certainly a remote and freewheeling place, it’s also a functioning metropolis. And just like in any other city, law enforcement patrols BRC day and night to keep the city safe and compliant with the laws that allow us to have the event in the first place. So yes, any illegal action on your part can lead to a citation (more common) or your arrest (rare).”

    Former special agent in charge for the BLM, Mark Pirtle, oversaw Burning Man for years but he recently retired so some are thinking the new regime may be a part of this new aggressive enforcement policy.

    “It is often like this at the beginning, then it calms down once the gates open because there are just too many of us,” said one longtime burner artist who wanted to remain anonymous.

    Another person who has worked with Burning Man for many years saw it a different way, "They (BLM) let us do a lot out here and they could be a lot worse.  It's all about your attitude when dealing with them."

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