Why Do We Associate Cops with Donuts?

(Last Updated On: March 2, 2023)

Spend any amount of time watching TV and you’ll eventually come across some show that takes place in some small town with like one sheriff who is on a first name basis with like everyone who lives there. You’re also probably going to see them hanging out wherever donuts are sold, which is like… A weird cultural touchstone we’ve all just accepted over time. Why do we associate cops with donuts?

The Graveyard Shift

When it comes to policing, there’s always someone who’s going to be on the clock. Otherwise that kind of defeats the purpose of any kind of law enforcement, if everyone knew when the law wasn’t going to be enforced then we’d all just commit our crimes at the exact same time every day.

Let’s put aside the part where if you’re rich you just get out of being held accountable, thus still defeating part of the purpose of law enforcement. 

But back to odd hours. The cop and donut stereotype has its roots in the 1940s and 1950s. If you had to be out and about at 3:20 AM for whatever reason and you got hungry one of your first instincts would (probably) be to hit up some 24-hour fast food or convenience store. Here’s the thing, the first 24/7 convenience store didn’t appear in the US until 1963. It was a 7/11 in Las Vegas, by the way. The 24/7 store wasn’t popularized by the late 70s either, so stopping by for a hot pocket or something wasn’t really an option. Through the 60s, only like 10% of restaurants were all-night diners. Most were truck stops, so you can imagine they weren’t readily accessible everywhere. Also hot pockets were invented in 1983. 

So, where do you go?

Post-WWII, the only real options for eating at odd-hours were donut shops. It wasn’t uncommon for officers through the 40s and 50s. So really, the convenience of donut shops made them one of the only realistic options for cops at the time. Even the founder of Dunkin’ Donuts wanted to keep the franchise open to officers, and made the claim that cops hanging around lowered crime rates and protected stores. True or not, it did give cops a place to do paperwork we guess. It also gave donut shops something to leverage for the purposes of making more money. It was just a good PR move for them back then.

Frank Rizzo, who was Philadelphia’s mayor and an officer through the 1940s probably rolls the entire stereotype into a couple sentences: “let me tell you that when I was a cop—even though I had my breakfast at home—there was nothing I liked more than a big, thick doughnut and a cup of coffee! You got out there, walked around, rolled in the streets with the criminals and burned the calories off.”

Speaking of media and donuts, see if you know your television by donut here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.