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How many people get arrested at Burning Man? The answer will surprise you.

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A woman dances with fire during the final day of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada early 03 September 2000. The festival is a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during the week long event.  AFP PHOTO (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Hector MATA

A woman dances with fire during the final day of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada early 03 September 2000. The festival is a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during the week long event. AFP PHOTO (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Hector MATA

Every year at the end of August nearly 70,000 people descend on Black Rock Desert in Pershing County, Nevada to take part in the celebration of radical self expression known as Burning Man.

And for many people it’s synonymous with drug use and burning a giant wooden man in the middle of the desert. But according to the Bureau of Land Management — which has jurisdiction over government land and the Burning Man festival grounds in particular — the number of people cited or arrested is quite low for its size and duration.

In 2013 only 6 people out of 69,613 were arrested and 433 more were cited by law enforcement, according to statistics from BLM provided to the Government Attic. (Note: Government attic is a great resource for FOIAs and government info alike.) That covers the five days leading up to Burning Man, the event itself and five days afterward.

The size of the gathering would make it the 5th largest city in Nevada and in comparison crime at Burning is pretty low, according to Gene Seidlitz, manager for the Winnemucca district of the BLM.

Year Burning Man Pop. BLM officers Drug citations Total citations Arrests
2010 51,515 51 158 293 9
2011 53,735 51 218 376 8
2012 52,385 70 253 365 14
2013 69,613 70 309 433 6

He said while in its early days there were deaths and more arrests the event has evolved into a well-organized festival complete with proper permits and safety guidelines — especially for the fire events.

“Although there are arrests and injuries and in the past deaths I think this is a very safe event and managed well with good oversight by the BLM,” Seidlitz said.

The key to keeping the event organized and safe is the extensive communication between event organizers and the BLM, according to Eric Boik, state chief ranger for the BLM for Utah, which oversees the law enforcement activities of the event.

“It’s because we all get to the table and communicate frequently and the planning for this starts for 2014 in December so we are already working hot and heavy,” Boik said.

He added the event encourages self-reliance and all the festival participants clean up everything they bring with them as part of a “leave no trace” culture.

“Everything is cleaned up as if the event never occurred,” he said.

Burning Man continues to grow — from a few hundred people 30 years ago to 51,515 in 2010 and up to 69,613 in 2013. The 2014 festival has a permit for 70,000 people and that is probably the maximum the event can host, according to the BLM.

A man dances near a fire at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Nevada 05 September 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA

A man dances near a fire at Black Rock City’s Burning Man festival in Nevada 05 September 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA

The agency worked on an environmental impact statement that put the maximum number of festival-goers — no including law enforcement or festival organizers — at 70,000, according to Seidlitz.

As for the wooden man that is burned every year?

“It’s quite a site,” Seidlitz said.

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Comments

  1. How many people get arrested at Burning Man? The answer will surprise you. – Military Times | WorldWright's … Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 6:19 am

    […] See on blogs.federaltimes.com […]

  2. Vic Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    I think this is a result of the BLM, fed, local police and other staff working with the participants in a very civil manor. Cops are friendly, not out to bust for the heck of it. The Burners are also not idiots partying out of control, they may party hard but not an “in your face” way. I know the Lightening in a Bottle festival in SoCal had a huge problem with arrests in 2013 cause the nasty Riverside cops went out of their way to try and entice people to get themselves in trouble. Thanks BLM, we appreciate the use of the land.

  3. Dustin Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    These numbers are misleading. I’m pretty sure these are just the BLM numbers. Unless you’re being a jerk or committing a violent crime, most BLM rangers will just fine you. It’s the officers from Washoe and Pershing county who do the bulk of the arrests – you need to add in those statistics for your article to mean anything.

  4. 2013 Arrest Data Revealed | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    […] blog Federal Times has published an article on Burning Man’s crime-creation record. The news looks pretty good: […]

  5. Tex Allen Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Good job everyone!
    I love reading an article that accurately displays the work that goes on behind the scenes and right up front by portraying our culture as one of mutual understanding and tolerance between the Citizens of Black Rock and law enforcement…we’re all in this together :)

    Sincerely,
    Tex Allen

  6. G. Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    “It’s the officers from Washoe and Pershing county who do the bulk of the arrests – you need to add in those statistics for your article to mean anything.”

    You’re very under informed then, Dustin. Last year especially, BLM officers are the primary and only major presence of officers on site. Pershing had a very reduced force and rode with BLM in tandem. Washoe has been very un-involved as an agency and is only responsible for the areas south of the event site in their county. These numbers are very close to accurate. There may be additional anecdotal data we don’t see from citations directly from Pershing, but I hardly think they would skew the data in any major way.

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