This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.
STATE COLLEGE — Pennsylvania State Police sent 70 employees to Penn State’s University Park campus in October to provide additional security for an event featuring one of the founders of the Proud Boys, a violent extremist group.
But unlike the local police departments that assisted Penn State police at the event, State Police were not reimbursed for their services.
On Oct. 24, a Penn State student group hosted two far-right activists for a “comedy” event on campus. Despite repeated public statements from Penn State leaders calling the speakers’ views “abhorrent,” officials declined public calls to cancel the event, citing the constitutional right to freedom of speech. The student group paid the activists $7,500 in student fees for the appearance.
That evening, protesters gathered outside the campus building where the event was scheduled, and police did not immediately intervene when individuals in the crowd sprayed a chemical irritant at protesters, according to videos shared online.
Officers from four local police departments and State Police, some on horseback, were on hand to help control the crowd. Penn State then canceled the event just before it was scheduled to begin, due to “the threat of escalating violence.”
Spotlight PA requested reimbursement payment information under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law from the police agencies working that evening. State Police told Spotlight PA in response to a records request that “no reimbursement occurred.”
The other agencies that provided security at the Proud Boys event included Bellefonte, Patton Township, Spring Township, and State College police departments. Open records requests showed that Penn State reimbursed the four agencies a total of $31,680.
When asked whether Penn State reimbursed State Police for services the agency provided on the night of the Proud Boys event, Lisa Powers, senior director of university public relations, responded in an email that “the university does not disclose that information.”
Penn State’s special status as a “state-related university” largely exempts it from Pennsylvania’s open records law.
The university routinely reimburses police departments for overtime their employees rack up working security for the university at events such as Penn State home football games.
That is the only regular partnership the law enforcement agency has with any college or university in the commonwealth, Myles Snyder, the agency’s spokesperson, told Spotlight PA in a September email. He added that any local municipalities can request security services from State Police for large events.
Spotlight PA filed an open records request in August 2022 asking State Police how much the university reimbursed the agency for security details during 2021 home games. State Police said a total of 12,317.79 hours of work by their officers cost the university more than $1.3 million.
Spotlight PA filed another public records request seeking a breakdown of those two numbers by date. State Police denied the request, arguing that while those records exist, they are broken down by pay period — not date. However, the Right-to-Know Law does not require requesters to know how the records are kept as long as the ask was specific and limited in scope.
Spotlight PA appealed the denial of those public records on Nov. 7. The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records sided with the news organization in early January, instructing State Police to turn over the numbers by Feb. 3.
Spotlight PA’s Min Xian contributed reporting.
SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at spotlightpa.org/statecollege. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results.