Such is the stereotype, at least. The delicious but unhealthy confection has long carried a certain stigma in America, but the real history behind the close relationship cops have with doughnuts is much more interesting and complex than the negative caricatures often put forth in American media.
How did this common belief originate?
In some departments, the relationship between cops and doughnuts was symbiotic. In others, it was a necessity. Yet why the law enforcement officers and doughnuts are often the collective cultural memory of law enforcement is because the doughnut shop was the only establishment for officers to grab breakfast.
In addition to answering calls and being on patrol, and doing everything a cop has to do during a regular 10-hour shift, a police officer also has to find a spot to do the bulk of police work, writing documents such as reports.
For the general public, a job in law enforcement has always been all about the work on the street.
But in reality, even police officers know that one of the main things you have to do when you come on shift is written your reports. And back in the day, police officers had few options of where they could post up and do some paperwork.
Even by the late 1970s, a 24-hour convenience store seemed unimaginable to most people. Unlike today, most gas stations were only for getting gas and were not for stocking food items.
Doughnut Shops Made for the Perfect Office
So, as you can see, police officers did not have a place to get food when they needed it after a late night of patrolling. If a beat was nowhere near a few select all-night locations, a cop was out of luck.
However, the one place where an officer could grab a quick cup of coffee, a quick meal, and even some paperwork (due to some much-needed open wifi) was the one thing police stations need to stay organized: a good ol’ doughnut shop.
What was good for the police was also good for the doughnut shop. Opening late in smaller cities and towns made it a target for criminals looking for an easy way to score some cash. In return for using your building for the officers on call, you had around-the-clock security, making for an easy morning with doughnuts and coffee to get the bakery started for the day.
This symbiotic relationship has been spreading all over the country, even as more and more businesses keep their doors open until late hours. As a result of the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1960s and 1970s, our country has become more interconnected, so many rural areas are not nearly as rural.
Chain doughnut shops started in the nightlife, such as Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. The police-doughnut relationship held strong, and some stores provided spaces for police officers to conduct their work.
Even Dunkin’ Donuts had a company-wide policy of catering to police officers, with their founder, William Rosenberg, crediting this early relationship as the key to their early success in his autobiography.
A doughnut is a fairly decent snack for the graveyard shift. It’s a freshly made, easily obtained calorie supply that a busy officer might need for a night of arrests. At any moment of an officer’s shift, a little caffeine helps provide an infusion of energy. A doughnut or two and a cup of coffee can only improve their job satisfaction as city or state employees.
Doughnuts and Popular Culture
Chief Clancy Wiggum, a police chief on The Simpsons, is rotund, but it’s not because of doughnuts; In the Donut, Authors Michael Krondl interviewed the police officers and asked them to recall their past. In his research, he talks about recipes, history, and lore in cities like Boston and Berlin.
In his new book, I Ate a Gingerbread Man, Krondl recounts advice that former Philadelphia police chief Frank Rizzo once gave him: “You got out there, walked around, rolled in the streets with criminals, and burned the calories off.”
As America began to observe this, how its local law enforcement was depicted in popular culture began to change, as more caricature-based depictions like the overindulgent cop Homer Wiggum of The Simpsons took precedence.
An innocent beginning eventually ended in harmful discrimination. There were people from all industries– from stand-up comics to punk bands and rappers–making jokes about the police officer and doughnut phenomenon.
For some, the only downside to buying those heavenly sugary delights is being caught eating them or having their car at a Krispy Kreme.
Today, police officers can generally post up anywhere during their shifts to complete administrative paperwork. Cruisers now contain everything an officer needs during a shift. There are usually many opportunities for them to grab a meal or take a break.
Despite their unhealthy lifestyles, doughnuts and coffee are appreciated by police, especially at late-night and early morning bakeries. The next time you see a police car parked at Dunkin Donuts, show the cops some love. As a serviceman or servicewoman, you might be asking those very same questions.