November 30th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

‘I knew I had to help,’ cop says of charity act gone viral

New York police Officer Larry DePrimo's gift of boots to a barefoot homeless man on a cold November night warmed the hearts of America when a candid photo of the act spread on the Internet.

DePrimo says it was an easy decision the man's feet had blisters the size of his palm and the kind of thing that fellow officers often do without fanfare.

"It was extremely cold out, and ... you could see the blisters from like 10, 15 feet away," DePrimo told CNN on Friday morning. "He was a gentleman when I had spoken to him, and I knew I had to help him."

DePrimo, 25, was the unwitting star of a photo that a tourist captured near Times Square on November 14, showing him kneeling by the man and presenting him boots and socks that he had just bought for him.

The tourist, Jennifer Foster of Florence, Arizona, sent the photo to the New York Police Department, which posted it to its Facebook page on Tuesday. The photo went viral, with more than 185,000 shares, 513,000 likes and 39,000 comments by Friday morning.

DePrimo, a two-year NYPD veteran, told CNN in interviews Thursday and Friday that he was on patrol when he encountered the man.

"My heart went out to this man," he said. "I just went toward him and asked him if he wanted a pair of socks. But he said, 'No, and God bless you for asking.'"

The officer said he had one word to describe the man's gracious words: "inspiring."

Inspired himself, DePrimo headed to a nearby Skechers store and after asking the man his shoe size bought winter boots for $75.

The boots were valued at $100. But the store's staff figured out what was going on and gave DePrimo an employee discount to help "make the best out of the situation," assistant manager Jose Cano said.

"You don't think about the money," DePrimo said. "You can see the gentleman's feet in the picture. Just another human being - it's just, you know."

When DePrimo gave away the boots, the man thanked him with a "smile (that) went from ear to ear."

"He said, 'Thank you, officer. God bless you and be safe out there,'" DePrimo recalled. "I asked him if he wanted to get a cup of coffee and food, but he didn't want to, and he just kept on going."

"As a police officer," DePrimo added, "you do things like this all the time. I think that's what a lot of people haven't really noticed, but are starting to notice, which is great. But nothing that's ever gotten this much attention."

DePrimo said he'd like to talk to the man again, and some people were trying to track the man down.

Asked about how officers are trained to deal with the homeless, he said: "Unfortunately, if they don't want to be helped, there's nothing we can do unless we feel it's severe to their health. And then ... we can call the homeless outreach program and get them off the street."

Foster said Friday that she and her husband were about to give the homeless man money, because he had been asking for change. That's when she saw DePrimo approach with the boots, she said, and she took the picture from a distance without DePrimo's knowledge.

Here is what Foster wrote to the NYPD:

"Right when I was about to approach, one of your officers came up behind him. The officer said, 'I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let's put them on and take care of you.' The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man.

"The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching. I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life. I did not get the officer's name. It is important, I think, for all of us to remember the real reason we are in this line of work. The reminder this officer gave to our profession in his presentation of human kindness has not been lost on myself or any of the Arizona law enforcement officials with whom this story has been shared."

DePrimo said he didn't know about the photo until a friend saw it on the Internet and told him.

Most of the comments on the NYPD Facebook post, some of which come from places as far away as Australia and Malaysia, praise the officer.

"One person can affect the world ... so with that said, it is my turn," Cheryl Ryatt wrote.

"Angels are everywhere, we just have to see!!!" Helen Hoglund wrote.

"Way to go cop ... God bless," posted Jonathan Brown.

Some of the praise didn't come without digs at New York and its finest.

"I wish more people were like this. This is in NY and would be the last place I would see this type of kindness," Teri Pizzurro wrote.

"I really dont like cops ive been in the situation of being searched and arrested for spitting on the sidewalk but this guy gets some respect from me," said a post from Gavin Roman.

There were some who considered the officer a victim, taken in by another scam.

"This guy is only barefoot as a begging strategy," wrote David Levy. "I've been seeing him around midtown for years. I've even witnessed someone buy him slippers in a freezing day which he promptly put in his shopping cart."

"Clever stunt! The (man) is 'parked' at the entrance of a shoe shop. He got like 10 pairs that day," commented Louis Zehmke.

Don't tell that to DePrimo. He carries around the Skechers receipt in his bulletproof vest as a reminder of the people that he and fellow officers serve.

While the officer admits being taken aback by the generally positive reaction to his gesture, he said he hopes it inspires others to help strangers in need.

"If it pushes somebody else to go out and do another kind act toward another person, then I am going to sleep well tonight," he said.

soundoff (306 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    A nice story, but you guys are making it into a farce. This is CNN's idea of top "news",?

    November 30, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • qui kar

      Yeah, why this article now. Is this some kind of joke. The bureaucrats push this kind of article to take more tax dollars. That's all this is. "You need more police. See they are helpful." BS. They are tax revenue agents for the state. They rarely help people. 80 % of what they do is collect taxes and jail people.

      November 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • navajowkb

      Scrooge, is all I can say for you. May the officers and people like him be blessed many times over this holiday season.

      November 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • sassysticks53

      So sad to see some people who actually hate the poor and would just as soon kick them or walk over them than lend a hand. I'll bet some of these people call themselves "Christian." That's what is so sad – the hypocrisy and greed. Some folks want it all for themselves.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. saywhat

    Agree@Portland tony and good morning.
    Reporting Once was good enough.

    November 30, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. merleannloman

    So Portland Tony, you would rather hear all about Ms. Lohan? This IS a top story to me. The more I hear about good will and good deeds, the more faith I have in human kind. Oh, let's hear more about Boehner, too....I love hearing about his lack of respect for me as a middle or lower class citizen. Let him give the boots from his feet to someone in need. That would also be top news to me.

    November 30, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • lolol

      I'm right there with you.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vincent

      well said

      November 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      @navajowkb – Who are you talking to? My argument is that, while Officer DePrimo's actions are obviously commendable, we as a society should be somewhat ashamed that his "single story of giving" has become such a media phenomena. (News stories are usually considered news because they're relatively rare events). While millions of people in this country give of themselves and to charity every day, the fact that this story has struck such a cord with the public only seems to demonstrate that such compassion and giving is seen by many (including the news media) as completely out of the ordinary, which I think truly is a sad statement.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lizzy10

      Beautifully stated.

      November 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      You sound like another welfare mooch, taking from other's that which doesn't belong to you, and demanding it for yourself. Ditto for those in agreement with you.

      December 1, 2012 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Satya

      I would rather read a story like this than about how Boehner is screwing this country and Lindsey is hitting people. Good job CNN for a change. And well said my friend

      December 1, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. TJ

    What's sad (and embarrassing) about this story is that it's actually NEWS. Homeless people have wandering the streets for decades (possibly centuries) and there have been millions of interactions between the police and the homeless. The fact that this one interaction stands out as something unique (something special) is a pretty serious indictment of the callousness of our society as a whole. For every Larry DePrimo, I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of police officers, public officials, and just general citizens who turn a blind eye every single day to homeless people with a similar plight.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • elgianne

      Well, TJ, there are many who help, but as you say many who don't. Mayor Bloomberg has done a horrible job of taking care of our homeless. I've seen more homeless on the street during his "reign" than any before.

      This police officer deserves the praise for helping this man. I hope more will do the same and if each one of us can learn from this, then it was a job well done!

      And, qui kar – you are a moron.

      November 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • angel

      @TJ- You are so negative!! This an example of a person showing compassion on another human being. He didnt have to do thsi and he did!

      November 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      @elgianne

      Nothing in my statement argues that the police officer shouldn't be praised. He should and he obvious is – the story has gone viral all over the world. That doesn't mean, as you yourself pointed out in regards to Mayor Bloomberg, that there isn't another side to this story. And the other side of the story is that for every Larry DePrimo there are countless public officials who choose to either ignore or badgered the homeless. In fact, given your statement regarding how poorly Bloomberg has dealt with the homeless, it seems a bit ingenuous and two-faced of the NYPD to actually honor Larry DePrimo for his actions. It would be interesting to know how many times this same homeless man has been badgered by other NYPD officers?

      November 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • keith

      TRUE.

      November 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • navajowkb

      You and others thinking the way you do are heartless. Someday you will all be in the position this man is in, which may be no fault of his own. At which time your time will be 'what goes around, comes around'. In this time of economy downturn there are alot of people who have reached their spiraling downfall and have given up. May God bless him and people like him in during holiday season and the likes of Officer DiPrima and God's angels..

      November 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Bri

      Let us enjoy this story. Define you own world in whatever bleak terms you choose, but the rest of us experienced this moment in time differently.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      To the guy who hacked my account... not sure how you did it, but TJ is MY ID, and how you're posting under my screnneame... slick, very slick.

      To all others; please be aware there is another "TJ" posting under my sceenname.

      December 1, 2012 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ram Riva

    yes....is top news.....good news like this may sound small to you...but it speaks volumes of the character of this NYPD's officer.....we can only hope that all news were with examples like the one you're reading today.....the first time I read this....in all honesty....."it made my day...."

    November 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Name*Anonymous

    When we stop taking care of each other when it's needed,then we are truly in a bad place. Kudo's to the young officer.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Brad scheibner

    Good on you, Officer DePrimo and all your fellow police officers all over the place that daily make these heartfelt gestures of humanity! Your act of random kindness represents the kind of police officer that makes up the vast majority of our nation's law enforcement. Thank you again, Officer DePrimo, you do damn good work.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. saywhat

    I agree with@ Portland tony.
    Don't turn a good deed into a farce.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. qui kar

    This article demonstrates how the Police need propaganda to justify taking your tax dollars, putting up road blocks for NAZI style "papers please" and giving tickets as state revenue agents. A government for the bureaucrat and by the bureaucrat. This is the kind of propaganda the NAZIs used to justify the SS. Welcome to the police state.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • VladT

      I am guessing you have been had too many interactions with the police, and let me guess...

      "It was always the fault of the police."

      December 1, 2012 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. ron cee

    It's good to read some GOOD news for a change. All the bad stuff being covered by the news media day after day is disheartening, to say the least. This kind of story should be more prevalent, it makes the day a little brighter! God bless you Officer DePrimo!

    November 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Portland tony

    So it's "news" when a person (policeman) does a good deed ...huh! Says a lot about our society. But once again this story was not "Just in"! Damned right this was a selfless act by the cop..but news?

    November 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. angel

    at least this officer did good deed for someone else, what has anyone here done to help someone else in need. I volunteer at a retirement center.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ricky

    big deal....who cares thats a waste of money what he did. je,je

    November 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. gilbert

    People do small acts of kindness everyday. What makes this idiot so special to make it to top news? Who the heck cares? A human being finally doing something good? no, it happens all the time.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Name*cheryl brust

    I am so touched by this young police officer. There are many police officers around this country whom do have a heart. Police officer's are the peace keepers, the guardian angels of society. They see the worst in our world. Everyday they are insulted called pigs by the same people who call them for help. Police officer's have the hardest job along with firemen. They put their lives on the front to keep us safe. To save others they show policemen no respect.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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