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. massoud

    This was a probably staged photo op to try and deceive the gullible sheeple in Amerika to put cops on a pedestal. Cops are a severe risk to innocent civilians when interacting with them. When you are abiding laws and get pulled over by Johnny Law their is a chance something bad will happen to you while interacting with cops. Any time I am driving and obeying traffic laws and doing Nothing illegal, and a cop is directly behind me I get a sick nautious feeling in my stomach fearing I will have to get pulled over for some false cop claim like following someone to closely,or drifting in my lane.When they approach my car I get sick to my stomach in fear that I might get harassed by some power tripping cop.

    December 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave in Indy

      Get the same feeling sometimes Massoud. But this seems to be the real deal – – but will be ruined by hype as media types fall all over themselves trying to position their hosts as caring and compassionate (e.g. the Today Show). But that doesn't change what this was – a very human act of brotherhood.

      December 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay S.

      This was so obviously staged. They even picked the most handsome cop they could find.

      December 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spencer Shaw

      I think you have some issues. Maybe you should get some help with that, and take off your tin foil hat.

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

    This story makes me homesick. I really miss the NYC. I hope this act of kindness spreads across the world!!! And FYI, I have also seen the man and he only ask for change and nothing more. He's has been around for years but it's a hard life being homeless and even harder being homeless in NYC!!I He just may need help for a mental illness but other then that I don't think he bothers anyone.

    December 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jayne

    I'm sure this has been mentioned in the comments but have all of you who are writing negative comments forgotten all of those law enforcement officers who helped and died on 911 and who continuted to risk their lives to help long after? Most people ran away from the tragedy on that day but the fire fighters and law enforcement ran toward the burning buildings to help anyone they could. And they helped save so many people both in the buildings and on the streets. I guess the negative people choose to forget the sacrifice that so many gave on that day but I will never forget and am still so grateful. There are so many very good and caring officers in the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies who go out of their way every day to Protect and Serve. To those negative people I wonder what you do every day to help other and which direction you headed on 911?

    December 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike E

      How many years have to pass before every act by the NYPD or NYFD, good or bad, has some connection to the events of 9/11?

      December 1, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • adopted USA

      I couldn't agree with you any more ! I came from a poor country 27 years ago, compare to the cops over there our cops here are Angels.Yes, there are some bad apples in every profession including cops. However, most of them are decent human beings just trying to do their job.

      December 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Oh please....99% of the people who did heroic things on 911 were NOT cops, they were firefighters. And firefighters ARE true heros and they DESERVE the praise they get. 99% of cops are just Neanderthals.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RsbnTn

    Donald Trump would have asked to see his birth certificate first, and then would have kept on walking.

    December 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • DarthBrain

      OMG! That's so funny and incredibly sad at the same time.

      December 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Darrell K

    Great Job....I think Sketchers corporation executive management staff should reach out to the officer and reimburse him his funds as well as donate hundreds more boots for the homeless.......

    December 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peach

      And who should Skechers lay off to pay for that? It's easy to spend other peoples' money.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chedar

    Sometimes the poor person who does not have a shoe acts as a Boddisarva. It brings out the wisdom and compassion of the officer. Quite an awakening for the officer. His act of kindness will be rewarded. May the officer be safe, healthy and prosperous in the many years to come.

    December 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DarthBrain

    there's a part of me that really hopes hell exists- just for people like this.

    December 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Clint

    I love all cops until proven guilty......

    December 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dantheman

    now this is a guy who actually deserves the $550 million jackpot becase he would actually help others with most of it

    December 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Elliott Carlin

    Wow, these things happen every day and a cop does it and we give him a gold medal. Got to love NYers always blowing things up bigger than they have to be..."LOOK AT ME". These are the same people, less than a few months after 9-11, who stomped over a woman in Walmart on Black easily they forget others.

    Mayor Midget and/or the Commish must've been down in the local likeability pols.

    Silly NY elite, silly media.

    December 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ernesto

    too many of us look the other way when we see someone who needs help. keep in mind that someday that could be you.

    December 1, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. michael

    The GOP would say, "Get a job, you lazy bum..whatsa matta wid you?!"

    December 2, 2012 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. michael

    the point is: people need help. NOBODY was a self-made man.. n' please don't try judgin' me from one phrase, friend, I'm 86 years old!!

    December 2, 2012 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. michael

    Being a police officer must be incredibly difficult. There are some real bad ones, who shouldn't be, but accenting the positive is almost always the way to go.,life is full to overflowing with unsung heroes.

    December 2, 2012 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
  15. sally w.

    If anyone deserves to be voted Times person of the year its him,its that simply.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy12

      a true hero wouldnt except money to protect people i bet if he wasnt being paid to be a cop he would have never done this lol wat a joke.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      In the Us a policeman buys boots for a homeless barefoot man. In Syria, the policeman would have cut of his feet.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • TL

      Stacy12 – You evidently need some elementary education. Therefore, the definition of a hero is "A person, typically a man, who is admired for courage or noble qualities." Where does it say that doing something that is admirable, courageous, or noble has to be for free. In case you didn't know, all of our men and women in the military are also paid and they are all heros! Please stop trying to put down the people that put their lives on the line for you every day. I'm sure you would be the first person to call a policeman/woman for help should you be in danger or need of their help. I think what this officer did is the epitome of a hero. He didn't know anyone was watching and most certainly didn't expect the entire world to find out. You should take some lessons.

      January 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
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