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The Globe and Mail

N.Y. police officer becomes media darling after buying homeless man boots

New York police officer Larry DePrimo gives a homeless man a pair of boots and socks in Times Square in this November 14, 2012 handout photo courtesy of Jennifer Foster. The photograph has drawn a deluge of praise after it was published on the police department's Facebook page this week.

Jennifer Foster/Reuters

The U.S. national media just got the perfect holiday gift: a feel-good tale about a young police officer who dug into his own pocket to put boots on a barefoot panhandler on a freezing city sidewalk.

Thanks to a blurry Facebook photo snapped on a cellphone by a tourist who happened upon the incident in Times Square, New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo, 25, went from anonymous Good Samaritan to national media celebrity in less than 72 hours. The photo of the officer crouching with the new pair of boots next to the bedraggled man was featured on the front pages of New York's two popular tabloids, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, on Friday. An article describing the good deed was the most viewed story of The New York Times's website on Friday morning.

Mr. DePrimo told and retold the story of his labour of love in interviews Friday on a half dozen national TV morning shows.

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Little was known about the man to whom Mr. DePrimo gave the boots. He is said to be a veteran who was at one time homeless and was placed in veterans' housing some time in the past year, according to NBC 4 New York.

Mr. DePrimo's story has been particularly appealing because most pictures and video civilians take of police officers expose cruelty, not generosity, said Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In contrast, "everything about this feels good and right and worthy," Dr. Clark said, adding that the way the story came to the media's attention contributed to its poignancy. Squeezed into the spotlight was Jennifer Foster, the tourist who quietly snapped the photo of Mr. DePrimo that was posted to the New York Police Department's Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon. She was flown to New York from Arizona for a Friday morning appearance on Today with Mr. DePrimo – meeting him for the first time.

"We decided that we were best friends now," Ms. Foster said on the program.

Back in Times Square, television trucks and their crews swarmed the Skechers store where Mr. DePrimo bought the boots with the help of a worker who rang up the purchase with his employee discount. Even the small kindness of the discount triggered a wave of thank you calls and e-mails to the store.

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