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. Andy

    This is the 'pure' definition of a hero! A monicker NEVER to be given to someone who's simply good at sports but rather to someone who serves even those deemed by society as not worthy to be.

    December 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cindy Shaw

    This little bit of kindness could help this world become a better place to live. God bless the officer and lets keep them both in our prayers.

    December 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. massoud

    Must be a pr move by the NYPD after their shootout a few months ago in broad daylight that killed a few innocent people and wounded several others

    December 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • massoud

      my bad no people were killed but 9 bystanders were injured by NYPD gunfire

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

    This was an act of human kindness, decency and real charity. And it doesn't take away from this fine officer's gracious act even if this homeless fellow is a scammer as some people are assuming. The spirit of a gift offered remains true no matter how the gift is received or by whom. This officers generousity of spirit is the act of a good person, and he likely chose his profession from a desire to sincerely serve and protect. Being homeless is something people assume is deserved and often these folks are marginalized by mental illness, trauma, and beat down by life's misfortunes. Becoming homeless is something that can happen to good people – it can happen to any of us – yes, it can. Lose your job, get hurt or become seriously ill and becoming homeless can be a tragic reality. Illness, injury, losses can lead to or feed addiction and life can spiral downwards to the curb from there. There but for the Grace of God go i. The officer was a gentleman and a caring human, the homeless man was polite and appreciative. What wonderful news for a change.

    December 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. readitnot

    To the grinches among these commentators. It may be just a hunch, but I do not see NYPD officers as gullible saps easily taken in by the scams of dishonest homeless people. Neither did the reaction of the store, giving the officer a discount, support the comment that the man habituates the front of the store shoeless to garner sympathy. The officer likely expected nothing better than a good ribbing by the other guys at the station if word got out that he did this.

    But he was willing to look a fool if necessary to do what he felt was right and I honer him for that. If only more of us had his courage .. . . .

    December 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kamikaze

    I live next door to a Pizza Hut. I've taken pictures of Pizza Hut. I can safely state that all US citizens only eat pizza from Pizza Hut because I base all my information on pictures alone.

    December 2, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rich

    Wow, I was a cop for 20 yrs with the NYPD and this story just really make me wish I had done even more than I did to help people. What an inspiration..God Bless the Rookie. Everything good that comes to him from here is well deserved.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TomFromCanada

    I will, on occasion, come across news articles that mention alleged Police brutality in the arrest of a suspect, and almost always I would find out that the 'brutality' of the encounter was far less than what a civilian with some training in martial arts or self-defense would have used.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. danielhyneslives

    Great Job to Officer DePrimo. We need more people like him, not just in uniform. How many people walked by before this fine example for us all stepped up. I hope I would have done the same thing.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom

    Thank god there is still one decent cop in the world.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Georgie

    This cop and his act of kindness has lifted the image of police everywhere.

    December 3, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. GulpOff

    He should have given him his gun.

    December 3, 2012 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jason Rogers

    Nice guy, I think any decent person on this planet should have done that. That is just me, I would have, had I had the money.
    However, I wouldn't like all the attention, I wouldn't like my face all over the internet and news and I certainly would have no wanted my picture taken. So while I say that cop is awesome, I hope he isn't like me, otherwise I would say poor cop lol.

    December 3, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  14. jdubski

    2yrs on the force? He's still a rookie. Give him another 5 years and he'll be just like any other pig on the force- Telling the homeless to "get up and move elsewhere, you can't be here".

    December 3, 2012 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  15. MOCaseA

    "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."

    Needs a slight edit:

    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 law enforcement officials with whom this story has been shared.

    There, I fixed it...

    December 3, 2012 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
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