Penn State spent half a million dollars on police overtime at football games in 2021

Emma Dooling
Spotlight PA

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Penn State University paid $572,119 for officers from five Centre County police departments to work overtime at football games last year, according to data from the agencies.

Police departments in the Borough of Bellefonte, Ferguson Township, Patton Township, Spring Township, and the Borough of State College all provided security detail and traffic assistance during the seven regular-season games at Beaver Stadium in 2021.

At the end of the season, the university reimburses the cost of these overtime hours to each department at double the officers’ regular hourly rates.

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The State College Police Department, which had 61 full-time uniformed employees in 2021, logged more overtime hours for Penn State than any other local agency. The department reported its officers worked more than 2,000 hours at the games for a total reimbursement of almost $399,000.

This amount includes administrative fees for each game, which are 20% of the cost of the hours worked. For Penn State’s October game against Indiana University, for example, State College charged the university nearly $10,000 in fees.

Penn State wide receiver Jaden Dottin catches a touchdown pass in front of Zakee Wheatley during an NCAA college spring football game Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

The four other local police departments worked an average of 412 hours for Penn State football security and were paid between $24,000 and $58,000 for the year.

Penn State would not provide details on overtime reimbursements to Spotlight PA because the information “is not considered public.” Under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, “state-related institutions” are “generally exempt from the Law’s requirements,” according to the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, a group that advocates for government transparency.

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

The true amount of overtime paid likely exceeds half a million dollars because it does not include reimbursements made to Pennsylvania State Police, who also provide gameday security. Trooper Christopher Fox, the public information officer for the seven-county region including Centre, declined to provide the amount the university paid State Police in 2021, saying he did not want to comment on Penn State’s behalf.

Spotlight PA has filed a Right-to-Know request with State Police for this information.

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While working football games is a good opportunity for officers to earn extra money, all five police departments said they don’t sacrifice their regular patrol operations on these days.

Still, Penn State security could take up half of a smaller department’s officers on a game day. Bellefonte police had 10 full-time, uniformed employees last year, according to 2021 salary data provided by the borough. Penn State requested two to three patrol officers and two tactical officers from the department for every game, said Chief of Police Shawn Weaver.

Weaver said he won’t send the requested detail if the borough can’t fill its regular shifts that day. He often patrols such Saturdays, he said, so his officers can work the games.

State College police increase their patrols in the borough on Friday and Saturday nights during home game weekends in response to the influx of visitors, said Capt. Greg Brauser. Because officers work more shifts these weekends — they might patrol Friday night and then provide security at the game the next day, for instance — he said fatigue can become a problem.

State Police recruit officers from across Pennsylvania to work football games so that the agency doesn’t have to decrease patrols or overschedule local officers, Fox said.

While Penn State football was a major source of police overtime in 2021, officials said the Centre County Drug Task Force run by the state attorney general’s office also played a role. Most of this extra work — which was reimbursed by the attorney general’s office — went to detectives, who made a total of $154,886 from overtime last year.

Officers also earned overtime when they had to attend court proceedings outside of their normal hours, cover another officer’s shift, work an investigation, or conduct traffic and DUI patrols reimbursed by the state, officials told Spotlight PA.

Of these police departments, State College is the only one that contracts out its services to municipalities without their own force, but all five agencies have mutual aid agreements that allow them to receive assistance from each other upon request. Both of these arrangements might also contribute to overtime hours, Brauser said.

Salary data obtained by Spotlight PA as part of a local transparency test found that the five police departments spent more than $11.5 million on compensation last year, including $650,571 on overtime. A detective in State College took home nearly $34,000 in overtime, the most of any employee in the five local police departments.

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