This story first appeared in Talk of the Town, a weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau featuring the most important news and happenings in north-central Pennsylvania. Sign up for free here.
STATE COLLEGE — 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.
“Just as PSP services can be requested for any large event by a local municipality — concerts, parades, political rallies — any college or university in Pennsylvania can request detail from PSP,” Myles Snyder, the State Police’s communications director, told Spotlight PA in an email. He added that troopers worked all of Temple University’s home football games during the 2022 season.
Police officers from Bellefonte, Ferguson Township, Patton Township, Spring Township, and State College were paid double their regular hourly rate for the overtime work at Penn State football games. State Police officers earned overtime pay at a time-and-a-half rate, according to Snyder.
“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.
Security costs for Penn State football games are an expense paid by the university’s Intercollegiate Athletics department. An NCAA financial report shows that in 2021 the department spent more than $13 million on “game expenses,” which included game day security. No state or government funding was used for game day expenses, as Intercollegiate Athletics’ income covered the entire cost, according to the report.
Spotlight PA’s former intern Emma Dooling contributed reporting.
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