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. That guy

    This sounds entirely like a PR campaign

    November 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ

      And you sound like some paid-for troublemaker from one political party or another. Don't matter which. Scµm is scµm. Stay in the pond where you belong.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Swiss

    He's good-looking too!

    November 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. susannahdean

    i agree with you, PP. not only that, why do we have to be recognized before we do something nice for others. i would say that is what is wrong with society these days. we won't do anything for someone unless we get something out of it. i know of someone close to me that does things like this everyday. he never asks for anything and no one ever knows he does it except the person on the receiving end.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. supersam007

    Great inspriration to my soul !

    November 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Monica R

    This acts-of-kindness news is refreshing and inspirational. I hope more people are inspired to make a positive difference in another person's life.

    I hope you, Officer DePrimo, never become weary of doing what is right on your part. Your compassion makes you a super role model. No need for super heroes here! Thank you for your service to the public.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. pauleky

    I really, really hope I never become as cynical as quite a few of you on this thread. Kudos to the officer.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Vincent

    you can always come to the cnn boards and see what American are about-mean spirited....

    November 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Eulajoe

    I'm one of of those that doesn't automatically consider people in law enforcement, the military or fire departments to be heroes. What they do is dangerous & can even be life threatening at times-but it's what they chose, were trained for & are paid to do. Having said that-When the individual does something far above & beyond the call of duty, THEN he or she truly becomes a hero. Officer DePrimo firmly belongs in that category. Thank you for reminding us that there still are truly good & selfless people in the world.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lilyq

    Sad that this is being treated as an isolated act of kindness. Sad that this is seen as out of the ordinary instead of the norm.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Carm

    The homeless guy planted himself in front of a shoe store, knowing that someone would buy him boots. He's not stupid! Also, why is the media going ga-ga over this act of kindness? It happens all the time, everywhere around the world. Is it because it was a cop, that it's making the headlines? Instead of making the cop & the photographer heroes, why not interview the homeless guy, and try to get him off the street? The media has their priorities mixed up.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Bri

      If the homeless man got ten pairs of boots by sitting outside a shoe store, wouldn't the employees of the store tell the police officer instead of giving him a discount – or can't you reason at that level. The homeless man is likely smarter than you.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gary

    it says it on the car: Courtesy, Proffessionalism, Respect. I see all three of those in this video

    November 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Huh??

    The only reason this story is getting all this attention is because it is so out of character for a cop to care about and actually help someone.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • ccetsu

      Out of character for a Cop to care about someone?? This is not the reason why its getting so much attention, its because an underpaid Officer purchased a pair of moderatly priced boots for a homeless man who had no shoes... It would be safe to assume that your anger toward law enforcement stems from an incident you have had in which you were arrested or incarcerated. Its individuals like you who place a stigma on individuals who protect and serve.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Huh??

    let me guess "your" illiterate?

    November 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bless The Policeman

      Huh? "illiterate"? what is that? sounds delicious!

      December 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Dude! Don't get two hung up on punctuation and spelling...rather, stay on point! (I screw that stuff up all da' times but eye think my message is clear 🙂

      Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer

      Eye halve a spelling chequer
      It came with my pea sea
      It plainly marques four my revue
      Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

      Eye strike a key and type a word
      And weight four it two say
      Weather eye am wrong oar write
      It shows me strait a weigh.

      As soon as a mist ache is maid
      It nose bee fore two long
      And eye can put the error rite
      Its rarely ever wrong.

      Eye have run this poem threw it
      I am shore your pleased two no
      Its letter perfect in it's weigh
      My chequer tolled me sew.

      - Sauce unknown

      December 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tammie Humphries

    "How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these."
    George Washington Carver
    Thank you sir for your act of kindness. We must ask ourselves: "What if that were me?"

    November 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. asdefsdfdsf

    It is precisely the fact that this was a police officer that makes the story inspirational. On a daily basis, these guys deal with the worst of humanity. The peer into Pandora’s box so we can have the luxury of not knowing it’s even there. Acting like a decent human after dealing with THAT on a daily basis is a miracle on of itself.

    So officer DePrimo, yes, we did notice and say: “thank you” for your service and for the inspiration.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
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