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. Betty Philly

    Officer Larry DePrimo has a heart of gold...in one of the riches cities..a man wonders around with no shoes...Office DePrimo did as Christ said "...and cloth the naked..." God Bless Officer DePrimo

    November 30, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lee

    Such a kind compassionate heart. Teared up reading the article. Kudos Officer and may the Good Lord Bless you and keep you safe!!! Your parents must be so proud of you! What an inspiration!

    November 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Richard Krupski

    Where are all the conservative nuts whining about this homeless man getting a job and complaining about paying $5 a year in taxes to help pay for his meals and shelter. Or the even nuttier ones blaming this mans homelessness on Obama, oh wait the election is over.

    Just remember, when we stop caring we stop being humans and start becoming primitive animals again. It takes a real person to care about those below us and to do something about it.

    If you don't like paying taxes because you feel your government shouldn't be giving some of it to the less fortunate, you can always opt out of being a citizen of the United States of America, you know where the door is, nobody is forcing you to live here and you can leave at any time.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Louis

    The only reason he made the news is because people are shock to see a cop being nice. People help other people everyday with many acts of kindness. I pray that this was not a stunt, and an actual act of kindness. God bless him, and all those who look out for their fellowman.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bruce

    I guess in a million cops, there's still one decent cop. It's rare, extremely rare in the case of cops. Kudo to this cop. As for the rest, if they're ever in trouble around me, I would stop and watch them suffer... it'd be entertaining to see karma at work.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • deutsche001

      The majority of officers just want to do a job and get paid; they are neither better nor worse than any of us. The bad ones get more attention than the good ones.
      It is good to see a this much attention focused on one police officer, but in reality most of them do something decent on a daily basis.
      I have had very bad experiences with police officers, but still don't think the majority are as bad as the ones I had to deal with.

      November 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bull3gern

    Finally, a cop video where the cop is a human being!

    November 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Riquin

    Well a promotion for the policeman is in order.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. fritcnn

    Pulitzer prize for the photo.

    November 30, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Flora J.

    There are many people out there who are just too cynical and may question the motives of the man sitting outside the entrance to the shoe store. Some claim he is a scammer, and that may be true. However, the officer did not question the motives of the gentleman. Instead, he looked within himself and felt he was facing someone in need. That is the true meaning of giving, without question and freely given. Therefore, I salute him. The scammer will eventually have to answer for what was in his heart.

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

      Why, is there a shoe scam crew that comes around and makes people answer for their scams?

      December 1, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  10. Hatsoff123

    This is what we need more of in America. People going out of the way in the best interest of their neighbors and communities. A humility and a servant's heart could do a lot to rejuvenate and stimulate the economy. Not everyone may approve of his policies or views, but I'm thankful our current president started out as a community activist and public servant. It takes some of that experience to be a leader people can relate to. His life's work has been for the betterment of all.

    Hats off to this officer and the many other unsung heroes in public service. This includes our troops. Salute to all!

    November 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandra

      We would have a better world.

      December 1, 2012 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawk

      Kudos to Officer DePrimo. I just wish all police officers could appreciate how even this highly celebrated act of kindness will be forgotten the next time one of their own commits some act of injustice or unwarranted authoritarianism. The only way to prevent that is to abandon "the thin blue line" and speak out against fellow officers who are a discredit to the uniform.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Citizan Kane

    Propaganda!

    November 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Sparrows

      Your comment makes me think you're so selfish. Shame on you.

      December 1, 2012 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ricky

    What a great guy, it is nice to see that we still have people like him serving our country out there. I wish him the best, and hope to see more stories like this. This is what America needs.

    November 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. edocol

    I call BS Rick.

    December 1, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      You can call anything you like. It doesn't change the fact that I've got the bruises, the Taser damage, and the complete LACK of ANY conviction record to prove these Neanderthals have got it in for me. You know nothing about it.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gio Bambino

    Of course the officer has an Italian back ground given his last name, us Italians are not all mob members and reality TV goofs! God Bless!

    December 1, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Joel-B

    Larry, you apparently ANOINTED THIS MAN WITH "PRECIOUS KINDNESS" this CHRISTMAS SEASON... May God bless you, your family, and the homeless man yo gifted.....

    December 1, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
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