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. gilbert

    maybe the black guy should go out and get a job instead of sitting there on the curb... or maybe obama can come give him a phone

    November 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • sassysticks53

      Bitter much?

      November 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    Good man! Wish we had more cops on the street like this.

    November 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sfkulKat

    this is jesus washing feet

    November 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh??

      This cop is jesus?? youre a wack-job

      November 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • MKS

      Huh?? Nothing better to do today than insult people? I've seen it twice already...keep up the good work.

      December 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. panfusine

    Bless that Officer's heart.. even if the homeless individual may be scamming (unlikely), It doesn't take away from Officer DePrimo's generosity!, what an inspiration

    November 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      @panfusine: Well said! Happy Holidays!

      December 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. abw

    really, allie? these officers get paid very little to risk there lives every day to do their jobs. I'm not sure you can put the good cops on too high a pedestal

    November 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      Oh Allie, you are so self-absorbed and self-engrossed that the best you can do is try to detract from the good of this story. You are TRULY a pathetic example of what Americans should NOT become.

      Then you rant about other unsung heroes of the day... civilians, KW vets... blah blah blah. Yeah, your daddy is beholding to one of my family members who served there too, in G2 Intel, and others of my family who served in WWII (My own father, bomb disposal tech). blah blah blah.... GROW UP ALREADY. Oh, and I could tell you some stories about "civilian" unsung heroes that would make your hair stand on end... but they know they simply did "the right thing", a won't want notoriety about their action. Shut the F up... you don't speak for them... none of them.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Irish

    This is a TRUE public servent, and a real Gentelmen. A credit to any organization and to the human race!

    November 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hank

    Great story,
    This officer makes me proud to call myself a NewYorker.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sy2502

    This is the kind of assistance to the needy that really works, one human being to another, without government and bureaucracy to stand in the way.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave in Indy

      This was apolitical, genuine, and good. Stop throwing your personal politics into it – just appreciate it for what it is.

      December 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. PP Head

    Or it was all just staged... how convenient that somebody could take that picture...

    November 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      PP Head... don't quit your day job (as pp head). Seems to be your calling in life.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    Philly Police Dept is one of the most unprofessional law enforcement organizations in the country. Philadelphia goverment and politics is a culture of corruption that will take decades to repair. I feel bad for the good cops trying to do the right thing there. Most of their co-workers are criminals with badges.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. LeBar

    Now, each one of us, everyone who has read, seen or heard of this heartwarming story, should follow Officer DePrimo's example and pay it forward to someone we come in contact with who could use a little help. Doesn't have to be money, it could be any act of 'hey, we're in this together, let's help each other out when we can 'cause everyone needs a little help now and then'.

    God Bless you Officer DePrimo.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. traveler74

    This is heartwarming. I remember this phrase from growing up and it is the first thing that came to my head. As the saying goes “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). Helping one another is what it is all about at the end of the day, isn't it?

    November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh??

      You just have to use any excuse to push your bible nonsense, dont you?

      November 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bran

      He wasn't pushing anything onto you by posting a comment on an article. The comment didn't come out of your screen and follow you and say "I would like to talk to you about our lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

      Also he meant the verse as a way of saying that the poorest among our society should be treated with the dignity and respect that we give to everyone else.

      Whether you believe in God or not, there is wisdom to be found in the Bible.

      November 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jerome Horowitz

    Just sleep with them on,
    or they will be gone

    November 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • trilly3807

      That is what I was thinking. I hope the new boots do not get stolen from him. I don't know if that is being cynical or realistic.

      November 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Keith

    God bless Officer DePrimo for his kindness...and Mrs. Turner, the woman that helped me 40 years ago when I was a homeless 15 yr old.
    Mrs. Turner gave a scruffy angry kid a place to sleep, a hot meal and the incentive to get off the streets and go to college. She saved my life.

    Thank you to all the Officer DePrimo's and Mrs. Turners out there...some of us make it, and pass that blessing on to others.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edilberto

      This is fantastic. Thank you for posting this information. I hope it generates a greater number of officers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and lay people that want to help others in bad situations ...

      December 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TJ

    Jim, we DO have more cops like Officer DePrimo on the streets. Only there's no one around to snap their pic or tell their story. And they get covered up by the bad cop stories, the crooked cops, the criminals who should never be cops.

    But they're out there. Unsung heroes going above and beyond, never looking for recognition.

    And this... this kind of story, it's what America and Americans are about.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
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