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Act of kindness turns New York cop into media darling

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
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

By Peter Rudegeair

NEW YORK (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.

Even better was the way the story of New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo's kindness unfolded.

Thanks to a blurry Facebook photo snapped on a cell phone by a tourist who happened the incident in Times Square, 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.

DePrimo told and retold the story of his labor of love in interviews Friday on a half dozen national TV morning shows, including NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "Morning Show," CNN's "Starting Point" and Fox News's "Fox & Friends."

"We've been speaking a lot the last couple of days about who should be the 'Time' person of the year -- Time magazine. I'd like to nominate you," "Fox & Friends" host Gretchen Carlson told DePrimo.

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

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," 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 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 DePrimo - meeting him for the first time.

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

Back in Times Square, television trucks and their crews swarmed the Skechers store where 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 emails to the store, including from a retired detective from Arizona, said assistant manager Holli Barton.

(Reporting by Peter Rudegeair; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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