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. Pajamasmama

    Whether the homeless man was legitimate or not, the police officer did what Christians are led to unto the least of these and you have done it for me. Angels unaware.

    December 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      It's not just a Christian thing....those of us who don't believe in gods also do good deeds and care about our fellow man.

      December 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      A very arrogant comment. Where the Crusaders following this rule too?

      December 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CanDo

    The police's motto is "To Protect and to Serve". I have seen many acts of them serving (accidents, burglaries, etc.) many times above and beyond the minimum required. Maybe if you were'nt part of the society that the police need to protect the rest of society from, you would have a different opinion.

    December 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • cpro

      A mixture of both i suspect

      December 4, 2012 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. sharky

    They probably think you are a neanderthal too.

    December 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Haile

    God Bless you!!!! you are the best officer ever!!!!

    December 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Haile

    God Bless you!!!! you are the better officer ever I saw!!!!

    December 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brody Brotman

    Continuing the story...

    3 blocks later the homeless man, upset that his afternoon work was interrupted, removed the boots and threw them into a nearby trashcan. Driving off in his Lexus he considers an additional panhandling shift to help pay off the mortgage on his new upstate vacation home.

    I need a new car. All it should take is parking outside the home of someone gullible and accepting the donation when they're duped.

    December 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. THORN

    Maybe Government should create ID CARDS for HOMELESS PEOPLE where they can find a job, home, etc...
    Sometimes society can be selfish and kicking people out the street. This is only cop how put his heart for giving and caring.

    OBAMA is focusing taxes, american poverty, jobless americans, inflation, depression, etc.

    December 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bimbo

    God bless the police officer!

    December 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. massoud

    I just read a story about a Florida cop who used a pit maneuver on a elderly women with scoliosis who was driving 2 mph over the speed limit. My faith in cops just went back to where it previously was.

    December 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. krehator

    Sorry but I have spent a lot of time working with law enforcement. This is NOT the norm. This cop is special. Hopefully he will be an example for the rest.

    December 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. massoud

    This whole story seems staged and I have already seen this cop on FOX news doing an interview cops beat and shoot innocent people on a yearly basis all the cop has to say is the guy was reaching for his waistband and "I feared for my safety" and the cop will go on paid desk duty will have a internal investigation and the district county prosecutor who got campaign donations from the police union will clear the cop of any wrongdoing and wont press charges

    December 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. R.Rr

    To you Mr DePrimo God Bless you and yours, may God keep you safe and close to his haert ! ..... For you have shown what is truely in your heart.

    December 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bless The Policeman

    He is a man with a golden heart. His kindness is actually endangered act. The people in Wall Street who contributed to ruining our economy should be the ones doing this.

    December 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. richard

    The answer is simple. This officer is a truly good man. No further explanation required. Thank you officer!

    December 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bless The Policeman

    I just saw the video. By his looks, a face of kindness.

    December 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lily 1

      I certainly do not believe this was staged. If the homeless man was pulling a scam that will be on him. But the police officer did something that was part of his own soul – an act of compassion – and I certainly admire him for that. I would say to all the sceptics that you should be more compassionate, especially now. As the wars wind down you can anticipate more men and women on the street – do not judge.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14