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. Juan

    Pay it forward...

    November 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jellylee1970

    You are my hero!!!

    November 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jose

    Much Respect and Love for De Primo, this is what NYPD should be doing. I thank you for showing all that one man can change the heart of so many. May the Lord Bless you ten folds.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Peace on Earth

    That is what we all need to do...help one another! Great story

    November 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    So tired of seeing this story. If he was a true "saint" he wouldnt be boasting about this on tv in interviews. And it just so happens someone took the picture? Come on people. Stop the madness.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andacar

      Get a life Brian. Stop the madness starting with yourself.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • ohsnap

      You need help for your cynicism. I hope you get it.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Santiago Draco

      Poor poor Brian. Always too late to see what YOU should be doing. It sure does irk you to see someone else doing what you should have done and getting the credit they deserve. Too bad you will always bee less than nothing in the span of your life because all you can see is how the things around you benefit you without ever seeing how you can benefit the things around you instead.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • sassysticks53

      Please go get help Brian. Your lack of compassion is scary.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • dadomac

      If we don't see anything wrong with news reporting police brutality, isn't it fair to report kindness as well? This is exactly what the world needs to see and emulate- a good example.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      There's nothing scary about Brian. He just realizes, as I do, that this guy surrendering to a generous impulse does not change the fact that the other 99+% of cops are still oppressive Neanderthal pigs. They have bullied and harassed me all my life and I NEVER did a damn thing to deserve it. He's just trying to bring some sanity into this gushing nonsense.

      November 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jim E

    It was a very nice thing for that officer to do, however, it is *not* what the NYPD should be doing.

    What if there had been a terrorist event while the officer was inside the store buying shoes? What about the 3000 other homeless people in NYC? Who's going to feed and cloth them?

    November 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      Are you kidding me? This is exactly what the Police and anyone else who is able to should be doing! One man can't change the world but he can change the world for one man. And this is where it starts!

      November 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Wow really? A terrorist event while he is helping a man in need... well what about when he goes to the bathroom? Or when he has to eat? God forbid a police officer helps out a man.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • umm no

      So because he can't help every homeless person he shouldn't help any?

      You do realize that's the logic you just put forth right?

      You seriously need to grow up.

      November 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I can't help everyone, so I should help noone. Something might be about to happen, so I should avoid doing anything in order to be better prepared for that hypothetical situation.

      You're an idiot.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. r.ortiz

    this is a very kind act from this police officer, for helping out this person god bless him and this homeless man people do not realise that any time we all can lose everything and wind up like that, help someone in need if you can!

    November 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. gail

    May an angel always be with you while on your watch. Hopefully people will do the same to help the less unfortunate.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rick

    In my opinion this officer went above and beyond what his duty was. He should be an example to all of us to emulate. As to those here who have comments to the effect that "it was not his duty" or "he was taken for a chump" I just have one thing to say: If you are trying to appear to be cool or wise, you are not succeeding, you just portray yourselves as ridiculous and silly.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. andy man

    I was in Times Square a couple of years ago, and I walked a past a really nice NYC Cop taking a picture with some tourists, big smile, warm heart, just a really nice guy. As I walked past, I told him, "You are a Class Act". He turned his head and said, "Thanks". Larry Deprino is in the same league. God Bless people like that, the world could use more!!!

    November 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh??

      You know he was a "really nice guy" just from looking at him????

      November 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sonny

    I am very touched and choked. My tears come down my face very hard. He is the kindest hero. Good story.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. amandas

    This officer is gorgeous looking and a kind heart too? he must have one lucky woman at home

    November 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. REALIST

    Should have "gifted" him a job application

    November 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Huh??

    If this was a truly selfless action, he wouldnt be making the tv appearences, and to the papers he would simply say, "I gave him a pair of shoes – no further comment." Publicity stunt is all this is.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Bri

      Troll. I had harder words to say to you, but then I realized that you must hate your world and your life. I hope you find peace.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall

      And so what if it is, Mr. Cynic? let's say this is a giant publicity stunt and everyone is in onit... How does this possibly hurt anyone? Oh noes, officer gets good press! Oh noes, A nice "feel-good" story in the news! Hurry! Get this off the news before someone is inspired to do good! We can't let that happen!

      Get a life, you bitter tool.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ron Karek

    I'm sure this fine officer will be truly blessed for his selfless act of kindness. Reading about this can actually renew your hope for this world.

    November 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
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