Jan 9, 2013

Is Macca’s supersizing our cops? Fast food perks for law officers

McDonald's and Krispy Kreme entice cops and emergency services staff through the door with free or discounted fast food. Could these perks lead to corruption, and should they be banned?

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

An expert in police corruption has called for the practice of cops receiving free or discounted fast food to be banned, saying the burgers come with a free side of ethical problems. Crikey understands McDonald's gives free or heavily discounted food and drinks to uniformed police, ambos and fire department staff. The fast food behemoth recently aired an ad showing smiling ambos and cops slurping on their Macca's (the ad was taken off YouTube this week).

McDonald's is not the only greasy gift-giver. Doughnut giant Krispy Kreme told Crikey it gives a 50% discount to members of the defence forces, cops and emergency services. According to unconfirmed media reports, there are discounts at KFC, Hungry Jacks, Subway, The Coffee Club and Gloria Jeans. (And it's not all good clean fun: in the past, cops in some regions have received free entry into strip clubs and nightclubs, drink cards and bar tabs. The Sunday Herald Sun has uncovered various gifts accepted by Victoria Police, including an X-Box console, a Myer voucher and beer.) McDonald's confirmed to Crikey it offered discounts, explaining: "We're always happy to serve those who serve our community, and the discounts are a gesture that individual store owners or managers may choose to make as a sign of appreciation and goodwill." Former McDonald's employees (including former managers) have told Crikey a key motivation is to entice police to visit more frequently to provide high-visibility, free security at taxpayer expense. While it's not clear if there is a standard national McDonald's policy, ex-staff from NSW, Victoria and Queensland reported food and drink was provided at a 50% discount or for free. The company told Crikey the discounts "vary from store to store. As a large portion of our stores are run by licensees, each owner-operator makes his or her own decision in relation to providing discounts". Professor Leslie Holmes from the University of Melbourne's School of Social and Political Sciences says the fast food perks pose a "potential problem" and the practice isn't allowed in countries like Singapore due to the potential for corruption. "They should not be allowed to accept anything, they're not paid that badly," Holmes, who is researching international attitudes to police corruption, told Crikey. "It would be much clearer if there were rules saying 'we don't accept it'." Holmes cites the work of pioneering US researcher Lawrence Sherman, who wrote in the 1970s on the "slippery slope" of public officials accepting free gifts, however small. Holmes poses a hypothetical example in a small town: if a cop received free food, then pulled over the store manager for speeding, would they issue a fine or wave the manager through due to the cosy relationship? Holmes' research on public attitudes to police corruption in Germany and Bulgaria found just under 60% of respondents thought it wasn't acceptable for cops to receive minor perks. He's hoping the survey can be replicated in Australia. Olivia Monaghan, a PhD candidate studying with Holmes who is looking at police corruption in Australia, raises concerns about cops providing free security for McDonald's: it may not be fair to other businesses and could detract from the police's official capacities. If McDonald's wants security officers it should hire them, Monaghan argues. While Holmes and Monaghan propose laws to prohibit companies from offering gifts to police (and prohibiting police from receiving them), Mark Burgess, CEO of the Police Federation of Australia, says it's a "matter for the fast food providers". Burgess says police don't seek or condone the practice of free food for officers, and some police departments have sought to discourage the perks. The issue has been debated for 20 years and Burgess says he's unaware of any research which indicates the practice is leading to corruption. He points out cops often have little time to eat meals while working, hence the appeal of fast food. Queensland tried to clamp down on fast food discounts for cops in 2011 through amending its gratuities policy. Then police commissioner Bob Atkinson said at the time: "We shouldn't expect a discount for basically just doing our job ... does it mean that there is an increased police presence in some places because they offer a discount whereas in other places they don't get that police presence?" The Queensland Police Union opposed the clamp-down. Subway told Crikey each of its outlets was individually operated and franchisees made their own decisions on discounts, although the parent company "encourages all franchisees to be active members in their community". KFC said it did not have a policy that makes any discount offer to emergency services, and it's up to individual franchisees if they choose to offer a discount. Holmes is interested in the public's views on this issue and has reproduced a survey question he has used internationally for Crikey today. You can fill out the survey here -- we'll report back on your responses.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

16 thoughts on “Is Macca’s supersizing our cops? Fast food perks for law officers

  1. paddy

    Link to survey in this article is borked.

  2. Turgle Bird

    ‘Corruption starts with a half-price hamburger’ – (iirc) Scales of Justice, ABC, 1983.

  3. rohan

    need to remove the ‘.’ from the end of the link.

  4. bruce prior

    The Glenugie protestors (jailed overnight for court in the morning) report that the only thing that the police offered to eat was Maccas!!!! Reported by Ian Gaillard as: “The Grafton police outsource their food to McDonald’s so we had to eat McDonald’s and drink Coke if we wanted something to eat.” Cruel and Unusual Punishment I reckon. The reference can be found here

  5. michael crook

    Anyone who saw the Professor Kelly Brownell interview on lateline in October 2011 knows that MCdonalds, KFC, Hungry Jacks and Coke are addictive poisons targetting your children. It is not a treat it is poison. We fought , and beat McDonalds at Deagon (QLD) last year, but are facing a bigger fight at Sandgate currently. They are determined and governments are unwilling or unable to stop them despite the evidence. As a committee member of our local PCYC I see first hand the desire of serving officers to repay the gratuities received from McDonalds. Every McDonalds franchisee is instructd to get out into the schools, especially primary schools and youth sporting groups. They have taken “greenwashing” to an art form. Our research into the fast food industry gives one result, do not let your children eat this stuff. By the way, where in hell is Food Safety ANZ, the regulator, obviously not at home.

  6. Freddy T

    Lets look at the big players geting excessive perks and leave the coppers alone. I don’t think the world will end because some poor workers got a cheap burger.


    I have 2 problems with this practice:
    One: The cops skip their normal B/F and lunch and opt for free or dicounted fat food which is not good for thier well being and hit tax payers hip pocket and brings in efficiency by way of obeiss cops which is already evident on the streets.
    Two: The ” Maos ethical thoughts” translated from chinese goes like this ” A small leak in a big ship will eventually sink the whole ship” meaning corruption and stealing start small and when accepted as a norm gets big.
    In our society with 4 tax payer funded Royal commissions to investigate “Police corruption”, I would say let us go for ZERO TOLERANCE policy and start imposing hefty fines on businesses and big food chains who entice this habbit. I am sure you all get my drift!— let us get rid of it!


    Oh I forgot, I do support paying our defence and Police service personnel well above average wages so that they don’t have to worry about eating Junk food.

  9. JimDocker

    I think most people can tell the difference between a free hamburger and a brown paper bag passed under the table. I don’t go to fast food restaurants but if a cop was given a free hamburger while I paid, I would not think it constituted a breakdown in society.

    I know people can talk about thin edge of a wedge and slippery slope but common sense should apply.

  10. Spica

    Police called their uniform the discount suit long before that Scottish restaurant came to these shores.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details