What Started the “Cops Eating Donuts” Stereotype

Dan asks: How did the running gag of police always eating donuts come about?

cop-donutMembers of law enforcement stuffing their faces full of donuts is one of the most enduring stereotypes about the boys and girls in blue. In virtually every media representation of the police that isn’t deadly serious, the stereotype is played out in some way- Police Academy, The Simpsons, Family Guy, hell, in Wreck-it Ralph the police officers are literally sentient donuts. So where and when did this stereotype start?

As to the “when”, that isn’t clear. However, I was able to find one person who said his grandfather, who had worked as a police officer starting in the early 1950s, told him donut shops were a hot spot for cops to stop at during certain times even then.  So whether the general public picked up on it way back then, the practice goes back at least that far, and probably further.

As to why donut shops were so popular among the police, the answer is simple.  Up until quite recently in history most food establishments, and also the majority of stores, closed fairly early in the evening and stayed closed all night.

There were basically two options for an officer working the graveyard shift who wanted a snack and a cup of fairly good quality coffee- diners and donut shops. Diners were generally out because their food took time to prepare and a police officer could get called away at any time.  So that left the donut shops, which were often open throughout the night, or at least in the very early a.m. because they had to have fresh donuts baked and ready for the morning rush.

In addition to that, one officer stated that it isn’t just about the coffee and readily available snack either. There’s also the fact that most donut shops have a place to sit down.  Particularly for officers in cities that walk the beat, instead of sitting in a climate controlled car, this is handy.  It’s just nice to have a place out of the weather to take a load off on a break.  The coffee and donuts are just a bonus.  In addition to that, cops working the night shift who had patrol cars, also liked the well-lit place to sit down and do paperwork, which, as many police lament, is a huge part of their job.

Though today there are a multitude of places open 24 hours a day, it would seem donut shops are still the choice for a decent portion of officers. For example, during the Boston Marathon Bombings one of the only places that wasn’t completely locked down were several select Dunkin’ Donuts, that remained open to serve the police.

However, this donut/cop tradition is noted by some officers as a generational thing, when this website interviewed younger officers during national donut day (yes, that’s a thing), most were quick to point out that donuts were simply too sugary for the modern, trim, health conscious officer on the go. Citing bagels as a healthier alternative… (I just… hmmm)

Bottom line, even today if you’re a cop working at 3am and have a stack of paperwork to do, but have to be ready to get up and leave at a moment’s notice, your choices are typically fast food restaurants and donut shops, the latter of which generally have much better coffee, which for most police is probably a much bigger reason to hit the donut shop than the actual donuts.  After all, you can pack your lunch, but unless you have a heating contraption in your car, hard to keep coffee hot for a full night shift, and certainly impossible if you’re walking the beat.

Now that it’s a running gag, confirmation bias makes sure even if it’s just a small percentage of police that hit up donut shops today, the stereotype will live on.

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Bonus Facts:

  • National donut day itself stems back to 1938, where it was devised as a way of honouring the so called “doughgirls”- women who’d risk their lives giving fresh donuts to soldiers on the front-line. This seems to indicate that the donut itself is intrinsically linked with people with guns. 😉 If you’d like to enjoy your own free donut, many donut stores celebrate the holiday every year on June 7th.
  • For members of the Houston police department, donuts are often a gag graduation gift given to cadets.
  • The website The Police Daily has an ongoing feature wherein they post pictures of police officers posing with their recently purchased sugary snacks.
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  • There is another answer. When I worked managing 7-11 Stores we gave free coffee, sodas and snacks to police officers. For the police, it kept them awake. For us, it told would be robbers that the police stopped by often to get refills. Working a late night business it was cheaper to give free coffee and snacks than to hire private security or get robbed even a few times.

    • True. Still never stopped me spitting in their coffee. It was the company policy to give police free shit. If I had not been a weed smoker I probably wouldn’t have spat.

  • I’m sorry Glen, but weed smoker or not, the police are there to protect YOU. Smoking weed is NO excuse for spitting in their coffee. I hope you’ve changed but whether you have or not, you still deserve to do time for the fact that you used to do that. My fervent wish is that there would be no statute of limitations for spitting in a cop’s drink and that they could legally come back 50 years later and say “Remember when… You’re under arrest.” That said, I’m living in a country that DOES have a statute of limitations, and all I can do is say I hope you don’t do that anymore.

  • My dad is an officer. When I was young he would bring home free donuts all the time. All he really wanted was a hot cup of tea.

    Seriously, it is MUCH cheaper to give an officer free food to ensure that they keep coming back than to pay them upwards of $65/hr each (in Ontario) to have them hang outside of your establishment An business that has an officer close by us usually a business that is less likely to get robbed.

  • I am sorry, but this article is incorrect. I am old enough to remember why. First off, police officers hung out in donut shops day or night, and not just during breaks. Until the late 1970’s, when you drove past Dunkin’s, at least half of the time there were police cars there. Apparently, they did not get much in the way of assignments back then. Around 1979-1980, someone started a cop donut joke and it took off. The police must have been embarrassed, because after that, you didn’t see them hanging around donut shops anymore. Instead, we saw a big increase in speeding tickets, so I guess they had the last laugh.

    • Cheryl You are wrong I was in law enforcement for 34 years and have been off the job now for over 5 years and the article is right. It was the perfect place to work on paper work which took a lot longer to finish than the couple min. you were with the public. Plus if you were not use to working midnights or afternoons the coffee was a welcome plus to help keep your eyes open. I don’t eat donut but would drink coffee all day. The fact that it was free and most time gave you someone to talk to also a plus.

  • “Hot spot for cop to stop”

  • When I was a rookie (25 years ago) I had a supervisor drive up to me. I had just finished a foot patrol on a shopping plaza on Singer Island. It was a cold January midnight shift (yes, it can and does get cold in South Florida). He got out of his nice warm car and put his hand on my shield. I gave him a look and he laughed, said that when he was a rookie, on cold nights, sergeants could tell if you were hanging out in the coffee shops instead of doing your patrols by touching your badge to see if it was cold or warm…. Then he told me that he used to hang his coat outside the back door of the shop to keep the tin cold….right up until his coat got stolen while he was inside the shop.

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