I’m sure that you’ve heard multiple jokes about cops and donuts before. It’s probably one of the most common stereotypes about our boys in blue. Countless TV shows, movies, and other pop culture venues, mock this stereotype where cops’ expanding waistlines are associated with engorging in donuts. A NY Times article even claims that “no profession is as closely identified with a food as police work is with donuts”. But where has this stereotype derived from?

An Atlas Obscura article by Cara Giaimo traces this cop and donut combination back to the middle of the 20th century. By then, police officers has switched from foot-based rounds to driving during their shifts. “Officers working a graveyard shift needed someplace to park the cruiser, fuel up on caffeine and sugar and maybe fill out some paperwork.” Donut shops have late night and early morning hours to prepare for their rush the next day, so it only seemed a natural fit. Also, by the late 1950s Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts were on the rise with franchises sprouting up frequently. Having cops in donut shops also helped the store-owners feel safe, even with their obscure hours.

But looking back even further, Giaimo discovered that this cop and donut relationship is even deeper than what meets the eye. America has fed our “protecting-and-serving citizens” sugary pastries since at least World War I. The Salvation Army sent female volunteers to France to cook up donuts for soldiers on the front lines. And after the wars ended, returning soldiers took their taste for donuts with them. Many relief organizations would give our donuts to disaster-relief efforts to fill the stomachs of victims and rescuers, including policemen. Donuts seem to have been a gesture of thanks and caring to law enforcement for many decades.

Photo From: By The Salvation Army Chattanooga [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, it seems that some younger officers claim that the donut/cop tradition is a “generational thing”. According to Today I Found Out, in a news report interviewing these younger officers during National Donut Day, many quickly pointed out that donuts were too sugary and unhealthy for the modern officer on-the-go. Perhaps this was to escape that exact stereotype. Since donuts sometimes symbolize “police sloth, obesity and corruption” to many civilians, some police departments have put restrictions on hanging around donut shops.

Even with controversies and bad stigmas about donut eating cops being lazy, modern day police officers still are chowing down on these fried sugary treats. ”When we’re in a stakeout with another unit, we bring a dozen doughnuts just to break the ice,’’ New York City Detective Tom F. Weiner Jr told the Times. ”It’s like businessmen who take each other out for lunch.’’ Somewhere between wars, night shifts and the high stress of being a cops, a donut has become a symbol of friendship, appreciation and even hope.