What Started the “Cops Eating Doughnuts” 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 doughnuts 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 doughnuts. So where and when did this stereotype start?

As to the “when”, that isn’t clear. There are anecdotal accounts supporting the idea that officers commonly frequented doughnut shops as early as the 1950s, and probably further back for reasons we’ll get into shortly, but the general public doesn’t seem to have made the connection at this stage, at least not as far as surviving documented evidence suggests.

As to why doughnut shops were, and to a much lesser extent still are, 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 doughnut shops, both of which were regularly frequented by the police.

However, anecdotal accounts from officers of the era seem to indicate they tended to prefer the doughnut shops more. As for the reasons, it is noted that doughnut shops are slightly better suited over diners for if you just want a snack to go with your coffee, but not a full meal. Perhaps more importantly, the doughnuts are served near instantly instead of needing to wait for food like at diners.  This is advantageous if the officer only has a moment to stop, or otherwise thinks he or she might get called away suddenly, even if they are otherwise planning to stay awhile.

Another reason officers at this time could be frequently found at diners and doughnut shops, beyond the coffee and food, is that, outside of the police station, they offered one of the only climate controlled areas to sit down at night. Particularly for officers in cities that walked the beat, instead of sitting in a climate controlled car, this is handy, as are the tables.

On that latter note, even cops working the night shift who had patrol cars appreciated 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, doughnut shops are still quite popular among police working graveyard for the aforementioned reasons. In fact, during the Boston Marathon Bombings, one of the only places in the region that wasn’t completely locked down for a time were several select Dunkin’ Donuts, that remained open to serve the police.

However, this doughnut/cop tradition is noted by some younger officers as a generational thing. For instance, in a news report interviewing various officers of the youthful persuasion during national doughnut day (yes, that’s a thing), most were quick to point out that doughnuts were simply too sugary and unhealthy for the modern, more health conscious officer on the go. Nevertheless, even said officers still occasionally hit the doughnut shops at night to get good quality coffee on the go.

And whether a large percentage of officers still frequent doughnut shops for doughnuts or not, as long as some do, confirmation bias will no doubt ensure the stereotype of cops chowing down on doughnuts any chance they get will live on either way.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • National doughnut 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 doughnuts to soldiers on the front-line. This seems to indicate that the doughnut itself is intrinsically linked with people with guns. 😉 If you’d like to enjoy your own free doughnut, many doughnut stores celebrate the holiday every year on June 7th.
  • For members of the Houston police department, doughnuts 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.

      • Your disgusting. What a immature and low life thing to do.

      • Glen. Weed … booze … they’re just excuses. You didn’t spit because you were high. You spit because you were an asshole. I hope you are still an asshole.

      • Boo! Bro, wanna be robbed? That is so disgusting! Even if you hate the police, he protects you! Respect him!

  • 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.

    • Not exactly behavior I approve of, nevertheless a perfect example of how the drug war destroyed citizen/cop relations. The drug war turns otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals, and turns cops into the enemy of many people. This is the same thing that happened during alcohol prohibition.
      There used to be a cop that hung out at the liquor store I worked at while in college. One day he asked me something like, “Why do you people, (meaning long-haired hippy types), dislike us?” I said that, “It’s because you guys are always trying to lock us up, just for getting high”. Said he’d never thought of that before. This is also a big part of the problem with their relations in the black community, where the drug war is the excuse for their tactics there. We shouldn’t have cops policing personal morals. Let cops stick to actual crime, and the respect will return.

  • 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.

    • Yep! It will be much cheaper to give some free snacks and drinks then to hire someone! Imagine that a police officer is sitting in front of you store and enjoying a small snack and some fresh coffee when someone comes to rob your store! He will be caught almost instantly!

  • 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.

      • I remember the stink in the 70’s of cops hanging at a donut shop. Everyone was up in arms. I went in to some of those shops, and Ernest is right . A lot of them were doing paperwork. Also, it wasn’t the same cars all night long if you paid attention. Bitchers never get their facts straight first. Just run their mouths.
        And ya know what’s funny. I have walked in to a lot of business places over the years and saw people sitting at desks doing NOTHING. In the 90’s everyone was on their computers playing web games or in a chat room …. while at work. And it was those same self righteous pricks bitching about cops.

    • Mike (Cambridge Mass PD, Retired 2016)

      Sorry, you are wrong.

  • Back in the 60s my dad had a diner in a town where the bars were open 24/7 he gave the police 1/2 price on food and free coffee. There was very little trouble in the diner because of police presence. Whenever we did have a fight almost as soon as you hung up the phone a squad car would pull up,and we were happy to see them. So Glen my guess is when you had trouble where you worked you probably cried,peed your pants and wished a police officer would walk in.

  • “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.

  • A relative, (who was an officer) told me the California In-N-Outs gave them free meals to keep the Police presence there.

  • Mike (Cambridge Mass PD, Retired 2016)

    Michael, exactly right. Glen, asshole, don’t think you ever had the balls. 30 years as a policeman 28 years on nights as Patrolman, Detective and supervisor. I never failed to thank those clerks, donut chefs and nighttime workers who shared the night with me. Retired now but rally appreciated all.

  • Good on you Glen. Cops are not there to protect you. They only protect the the status quo. Bullying bunch of retards.
    And don’t tell me there are only a few bad apples. Every one of them will perjure themselves to protect one of their own, even if it means an innocent person goes to jail.

  • I know this is old and I came across it randomly but I have to say.. I work at Dunkin donuts part time and the cops are always there lol not only at night not only during quick breaks or whatever the story about cops and donut shops started because cops freaking love donut shops lol we are the safest establishment down town.