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. BCrier

    Bottom line is that it is very nice act of compassion, and it warms the hearts of even the most hardened sceptics, even if only for a moment. Which only proves that most of the people naturally strive to be more compassionate. So why not give up the scepticism for a few moments and let this act inspire us?

    December 1, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. JohnAnderson

    Doesn't the NYPD routinely arrest people for photographing them? Why wasn't THIS photographer arrested while anyone trying to record Stop and Frisk gets in trouble all the time?

    December 1, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sandra

    Man, I do not know what you think you saw, but I feel sad that you would find anything but professional "protect and serve" in this officer's action. If you saw anything else, please, for the sake of the citizens of your city, DO NOT become a police officer. Become a human being, first. And, please, do not become a firefighter, or anything else requiring public service. You have not concept of what the job means.

    December 1, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. David

    Police Officers actually do this kind of thing all the time, they just don't want the general public to know about it.

    While putting air in my tires at a service station in the middle of nowhere, I overheard part of a conversation between a Highway Patrol Officer and a single mother with two small children. She was complaining that she couldn't afford to fix the car, that they were moving and needed all their money for gas. He told her that, technically he was required to impound the car for defective and dangerous equipment, so please stop arguing and let him pay the bill. When this officer noticed that I was listening, I gave him a thumbs up and went back to filling the tire.

    I also know that not all Highway Patrol Officers are like him as I was in a near fatal accident in California. While the CHP Officer did save my life by calling EMS, as I was in a coma and my back was broken in four places, he also let the other driver off for being extremely drunk, running a stop sign (at over 40 mph) and attempting to flee the scene of an accident (until he ran out of transmission fluid). During the court case that followed, I learned that this was the fourth time that this multimillionaire had managed bribe his was out of seriously hurting people with his car.

    The question is, when we the general public deal with law enforcement, do we give them the benefit of doubt? When a law enforcement officer is questioning us, do we assume that most of them are a decent human beings trying to prevent harm to others? And do we the public understand the personal cost of their oath "to protect and serve"?

    December 1, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. GreenPhotog

    Can the two shown in the video head down to Washington together and babysit the politicos until they come to an agreement?

    December 1, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. AliM

    Great story!! As the wife of an NYPD detective I hear stories like this all the time. Everything from buying the neighborhood kids ice cream in the Sumner time when the Mr. Softee truck comes around to buying someone a meal. Many acts of kindness happen every single day in this department I'm so happy the general public gets to see it as well.

    December 1, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. leone

    My car broke down about a year ago in the the New York Westchester County area. One of the officers on patrol that night was more than gracious to take me and my friends to a 24 hour diner miles away from his working jurisdiction. He took us to the nearest area to be able to get transportation back to Connecticut. He did not and from my understanding should have not had us in his patrol car. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in getting his name. I even contacted the police precints in those areas to find this remarkable young man. I pray God will bless him and his family Always.

    December 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Terry in Florida

    There are still good people, good old fashioned Americans out there. Touching story to say the least.

    December 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike in NC

    This story touched my heart. It is refreshing to see that there are still people who care out there and that this young man had the decency to sacrifice his own money to help another human being. Imagine how the world would change if we all followed his lead.

    December 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. C Kilgore

    Brings to mind Rodney Crowell's Ridin' Out the Storm. A commendable human gesture, period.

    December 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ryan

    Nice staging and setup. Got the public to say awww and have some empathy!

    December 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. American Citizen

    Did you see something fall and land on the Police Officers right shoulder about 2 seconds before the video ends? That was weird.

    December 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Syed Rizvi

    This police officer with his gesture of kindness has restored & renewed my faith that police officers do serve & protect. His action speaks of his upbringing and his desire to serve the public. He is truly an exceptional human being. May God bless & protect him.

    December 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • CJ Topspin

      This stuff happens all the time. When schools are broken into, children have their presents stolen, homeless have no rain gear, etc. cops regularly as a group get together and help these people out.

      Unfortunately the media only prints when bad stuff happens. Case in point: This actually happened Nov. 14th and the media is only reporting it because the fact it went "viral" forced its hand. If he punched the homeless guy (with cause or not) it would have been reported within minutes.

      December 1, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • krehator

      Then again it is partially the media, but also because cops defend the bad apples in their ranks, and thus lose respect and confidence of the public.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. American Citizen

    Did you see something fall and land on the Police Officers right shoulder about 2 seconds before the video ends? That was weird.

    December 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Thats called a "chip on the shoulder" from God for a good officer. God bless him.

      December 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      Or it ould have been Santa picking up his wish list.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • katie

      I believe it was his earpiece so he could hear the woman calling in. Good guy. Let's keep putting out those good stories, it makes us all know that we're not all bad. I hear about great things happening all of the time.

      December 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tessa2U

    I wish the media printed more stories such as this one rather than the negative stories. This is truly inspiring and Police Officer DePrimo is a hero! I am sure there are many other silent heros that deserve our attention and recognition.

    December 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
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