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Penn State wouldn't share football security costs

Plus: Released FBI records further mystery around search for Civil War-era gold in Elk County

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

February 23, 2023
Support local investigative journalism! If each Talk of the Town subscriber gives just $15/month, we will meet our fundraising goal for Spotlight PA’s State College bureau this year! As a bonus, all monthly gifts will be matched 12x right now! Contribute now.
Inside this edition: Penn State paid state and local police $1.9 million for home football security in 2021, released FBI records further mystery around search for Civil War-era gold in Elk County, and a Spotlight PA/Votebeat analysis found hundreds of voters were disenfranchised.
Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA

Penn State paid more than $1.3 million to Pennsylvania State Police officers who worked seven home football games in 2021, an expense that the university called “critically important” but previously refused to share publicly.

Spotlight PA obtained State Police payroll data through two open records requests and learned that Penn State paid State Police officers a total of $1,323,743 for a combined 12,318 hours of security detail and traffic control that troopers provided from September to December 2021.

The university also paid more than half a million dollars to officers from five Centre County police departments during the same time period, as previously reported by Spotlight PA.

Last July, the news organization compiled salary data from Centre County municipalities and examined the earnings of local government employees using Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law as a test for transparency. That review led to reporting on the overtime compensation local police officers received from working Penn State home football game details.

All five local police departments provided the reimbursement information upon request.

But Penn State wouldn’t provide details because the information “is not considered public,” a spokesperson for the university said at the time. The State Police’s regional public information officer also declined to provide the reimbursement amount, ​​saying he did not want to comment on Penn State’s behalf.

Spotlight PA filed a Right-to-Know request last August asking State Police how much Penn State reimbursed its officers for security details during 2021 home games. State Police provided the total reimbursement amount and total hours worked in its response in September 2022.

The newsroom filed another open records request seeking a breakdown of those two numbers by date. State Police denied the request, arguing that while that public information exists in its database, it was broken down by pay period — not by date. 

Spotlight PA appealed the denial in November. Pennsylvania’s open records law doesn’t require requesters to know how government agencies keep records, as long as the ask is specific, limited in scope, and within a defined time frame. 

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records sided with the news organization in early January. Almost five months after that Right-to-Know request was submitted, State Police released payroll records to Spotlight PA.

The seven Penn State home football games in 2021 featured 133 State Police officers on average. The troopers brought home about $1,409 individually for each game day’s work.

The contest against Indiana University on Oct. 2, 2021, brought the largest group of troopers — 162 — to the University Park campus that year. The Nittany Lion’s premier home game event, the White Out, against Auburn that year cost the university more than a quarter million in State Police paychecks. 

“The use of professionally trained law enforcement from local and regional agencies is a necessary component of the overall game day management plan,” Wyatt DuBois, Penn State’s public relations director, told Spotlight PA in an email. “This is a critically important element at a scale that encompasses seven games and more than 800,000 people over the course of a typical season.”

Such costs were “not an unreasonable expense when talking about the safety and security of our community,” he wrote.

According to Spotlight PA’s analysis, the university paid the six law enforcement agencies nearly $1.9 million for the home games in 2021, averaging $270,000 each.

Min Xian, Local Accountability Reporter

“It’s the beauty and the pain that’s associated with the commonwealth. We have essentially a number of fiefdoms and each of them has their own budgets, their own way of looking at the law, and applying that law on the ground level.”

—Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, told Spotlight PA about unequal election policies.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
Dan Nott / For Spotlight PA
In September, Spotlight PA’s Wyatt Massey launched an official Penn State Transparency Tracker to better inform the public of all the ways the university was choosing not to provide data and information.

Now, we’ve launched a dedicated Transparency Tracker page to showcase our work and the ongoing effort all in one place. Plus, it’s easy to send tips or questions directly to Massey.
» Unequal election policies disenfranchised Pennsylvania voters in 2022

» Shapiro admin contends taking Super Bowl tickets from group that gets state money didn’t violate governor’s own gift ban

» A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us tonight at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it’s remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Blue Run Rocks in Tioga State Forest — via @hiking_mitch.

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
» WPSU: Ferguson Township residents concerned about oil spill
» CDT: How to give input on State College Area Connector draft study
» SC: THON raises $15 million for Four Diamonds
» CDT: Penn State again raises room and board rates
» WPSU: University plans to renovate Beaver Stadium

» AP: FBI records deepen mystery of dig for Civil War-era gold
» Sun-Gazette: Williamsport aims to make finances more transparent
» The Express: Water costs in Lock Haven increasing
» CDT: PSU professor pushes for change after ‘failure of institutional care’
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Feb. 23: The Palmer Museum of Art and the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity “celebrate love and fashion” at the Radical Love Gala.

» Feb. 25: Dress in your best ’80s outfit for Bradford’s Beer & Wine Fest.

» Feb. 25: The Huntingdon Regional Ballet hosts You & Me Under the Sea Dance, a family-friendly event to celebrate the company’s upcoming production of The Little Mermaid.

» Feb. 25: Support relief efforts in Ukraine at Korinya’s benefit concert at The State Theatre.

» Feb. 25-26: Peruse comics, action figures, anime, sports cards, and more at the Happy Valley Comic & Collectibles Convention.

» Feb. 28: Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and David Axelrod, who served as senior adviser to President Barack Obama, discuss their parties’ views on “The State of American Democracy” at Bucknell.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
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