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. Peabody

    yesterday someone who works in the area and sees this guy every day posted that the guy is sitting outside of a shoe store and does this routinely. he'll take the shoes off and sit barefooted again. the said he has about 10 pairs now!!!

    November 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Willy

    Yes, because democrats have a monopoly on compassion. I think some really believe that.

    November 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Oscar

    super... Medal of grace...such a gesture.. still some good hearts out there.....God bless the officer Deprimo

    November 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mav0k

    Why do you feel the need to slap him with a politcal label? This man displays an act of compassion and you decide that it's a good time to take a swipe at a political party you don't agree with? People like you that try to split us into either the Left or the Right are the true problem with this country. What ever happened to just being an American? Or maybe... just being human?

    In any rate; I'm proud of you Officer DePrimo. And by the looks of things, so is the rest of the world.

    November 30, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rick

    So ONE of them surrendered to a generous impulse. Big deal. The other 99+% of them are still Neanderthal pigs who beat and oppress people and ONE act of generosity does not change that. I'll be properly impressed when all the ones who have harassed and bullied me all my life when I never did one thing to deserve it apologise to me. Let them call me when they're ready to do that and I'll make SURE it gets videotaped and posted on the internet.

    November 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Rick: Really? You believe that? I will go out on a limb and guess that you have made your twisted reality known to the police officers who have "harassed and bullied" you. A total lack of respect for those who serve in low-paying, dangerous jobs to ensure law and order usually works against you. Try another approach to life.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      I tell you what stevie boy, I'll try respect on them when they decide to try it on me and not one minute sooner. If you had had the experiences with them that I'VE had, you'd hate all of them too. "We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws."
      — Hunter S. Thompson

      December 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tracey

    WHY???? Why would you bring this up ? dare you !! I'm SICK TO DEATH of people like you-lumping everyone together in a political party. I'm proud to be a republican, and I know I have compassion. I also know plenty of dem's who have little to no compassion so PLEASE just GO AWAY and take your drivel with you!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lizzy10

    A very sweet and inspiring young man. Not only does he look out for this guy, but for all of us, as he was on terrorist watch duty. Those who raised him did a very good job indeed.

    November 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Key

    We need more of this type of stories than of Lindsey Lohan

    November 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • adam

      You got that right.

      November 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • SilentOne


      November 30, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ghastly

      We need more police officers like this one!

      November 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. walt1948

    Thank you Officer for your kindness to a Person in Need! God Bless you!

    November 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. HongTam

    Good Officer. The only difference between that Officer and me is when I help, I do not talk, I do not go on national TV to talk about it, I do not discuss about it, I do not post my help on Facebook...

    November 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • GaryB

      The officer didn't post the act or the photo on Facebook (someone else did), nor did he go out of his way to seek attention. He was anonymous until the media tracked him down. BTW, I know a lot of cops (friends and neighbors) and while they're generally OK guys, most would never put themselves out the way this guy did.

      November 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Freedtoo

      Good for you......your mother must be very proud.

      November 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evac Nitsuj

      Did you not read the article at all? Someone else took the photo, someone else in the NYPD put it to their website and several random strangers shared it and that is what prompted people to find out who it was and the media tracked him down...seems to me you are the one "begging" for attention because only someone searching a spotlight would say what you did, so rude!!

      November 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      What if you're being asked about it? Do you deny it? Might not the story of your kindness inspire others to do the same (not that you do it for that reason either)?

      November 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Johnny B

    What did Jesus say?. "What you do to the least of you, you do to me". We all need to follow this a little more in our "busy " lives.

    November 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      Well said.

      November 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jblackbird

      Awesome quote, Johnny B. perfect for this and everyday. Isn't it awesome when someone loves us even when we don't deserve it. Uplifting. Merry Christmas 🙂

      November 30, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Luciana Della Neve

    An act of kindness shown by one human being to another can affect many. In this instance, it made the giver feel good and had a dramatic impact on many other people. In that context, does it matter what the receiver may have done with the gifts he received or what his "angle" was? I, personally, do not believe it does. It does not detract from the kindness itself. It is my belief that there should be no homeless people in our country and that no one in it should go hungry. With the millions of dollars that are foolishly wasted by our government, those funds could feed, clothe and house our homeless and eradicate a blight on society that should not be tolerated in these wonderful United States. A barefoot man in the cold month of November living on the streest of New York is a travesty.

    November 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lcleejr

    what a kind gesture by one of new yorks finest. he is one of the few that really care. in most cities, police are called to get the homeless to move on.

    November 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. debbie b

    Random Acts of Kindness. Just do it!

    November 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Absynthe

    Kindness speaks volumes. Jealousy only makes bitter people look bad.

    November 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
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