From The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, in pop culture police officers and doughnuts go together like peanut butter and jelly. There are few, if any, other professions that are so associated with a specific food as cops and doughnuts that it begs the question of how the sugary snack became a staple for the stereotypical cop’s diet?
As Cara Giamo writes for Atlas Obscura, cops around the United States began to be associated with doughnuts back in the 1950’s, when they were some of the only snacks available to police walking the late-night beat. Back then, doughnut shops were some of the only stores open late at night because they needed to get ready for the morning rush. As a result, they were some of the best options for cops who needed a quick bite to eat, a place to fill out paperwork or make a call, or to simply sit and take a breather, Michael Krondl writes in his book, The Donut.
“When it came to [meals], graveyard cops in the forties and fifties had few choices,” former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper once wrote, Krondl reports. “They could pack lunch, pray for an all-night diner on their beat, or fill up on doughnuts. Doughnuts usually won out. They were, to most palates, tasty, and they were cheap and convenient.”
At the time, Giamo writes, the relationship between doughnut and police officer wasn’t a joke: in fact, it was a point of pride for some shops:
...having officers around made the shop workers feel safe—as early as 1950, one small-time inn owner threatened a larger, litigious hotel chain by boasting, “our High Sheriff and our local troop of state police… help themselves to coffee and doughnuts in my kitchen when the spirit so moves them, which seems about every day.”
In some cases, according to Giamo, police departments had to step in and remind their officers that accepting free doughnuts could give an impression of favor to a person or business that could undermine their roles as impartial law enforcement. Even so, the doughnut had already become married to police in popular culture, as well as the cops walking or driving their nightly beats.
For more on the history of the long relationship between police officer and doughnut, make sure to read Giamo’s article.