New York Policeman's Gift to Homeless Man Turns into an Internet Hit

A photo of a policeman

Officer DePrimo helping a barefoot, homeless man.

NEW YORK CITY -- A photo of a policeman's generous gesture toward a homeless man warms hearts all across cyberspace.

A cold November evening in the city can be hard to bare, especially outside. According to the New York Times, Officer Lawrence DePrimo was working a counterterrorism post when he encountered an older, barefoot homeless man. The officer walked away for a moment, but then returned with a new pair of boots.

The act of kindness would have gone unnoticed and mostly forgotten, had it not been for a tourist from Arizona.

Jennifer Foster snapped a photo of the officer kneeling to put the shoes on the homeless man with her cell phone and posted it to the New York Police Department's Facebook page on Nov. 19. That picture has made Officer DePrimo an overnight hero.

By Wednesday evening, the picture was viewed 1.6 million times, has acquired 275, 000 "likes" and was accompanied by 1600 comments.

“This is definitely the most viral,” said Barbara Chen, a spokeswoman for the department who helps manage its Facebook page.

Most of the post comments praised Officer DePrimo, but some suspected the photograph had been staged. Many debated whether the officer’s actions were representative of police officers in general, or were just unusually exceptional.

“I still have a grudge against law enforcement everywhere,” wrote one commenter on the police Facebook page. “But my respects to that fine officer.”

Twenty-Five-year-old Officer DePrimo joined the department in 2010. He was shocked at the attention and had no idea when the photo went online.

"It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” he said in an interview. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold.” After a short conversation, he found out the man’s shoe size: 12. Then, Officer DePrimo went into a Sketchers shoe store at about 9:30 p.m.

“We were just kind of shocked,” said Jose Cano, 28, a manager working at the store that night. “Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing. Especially in this neighborhood.”

Mr. Cano used his own discount to lower the price of the boots from $100 to a little bit more than $75. The officer has kept the receipt in his vest since then, he said, “to remind me that sometimes people have it worse.”

Foster said when she took the photo, she remembered being a young girl watching her father serve his own good deed for a homeless man in her hometown of Phoenix.

“He squatted down, just like this officer,” she said.

After returning from vacation, Foster described the picture in an e-mail to the New York Police Department, thinking of it as a sort of a compliment card.

Officer DePrimo never got name of the man he helped, and could not locate him.

“He was the most polite gentleman I had met,” the officer said, adding that the man’s face lit up at the sight of the boots. Officer DePrimo offered him a cup of coffee, but “as soon as the boots were on him, he went on his way, and I just went back to my post.”

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