Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Cop’s compassion shouldn’t be a surprise

Post by Brian O'Neill on Dec. 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm with 4 Comments »
December 3, 2012 7:04 pm

The video of a bedraggled homeless man sitting on the cold concrete, his blistered feet exposed to the night time elements, should be nothing new to anyone who has spent even a moment in an urban environment. However, when a young New York City police officer approached and offered the unfortunate man a new pair of boots, the cell phone video went viral.

Officer Lawrence DePrimo, NYPD/ courtesy of The Blaze

According to one article (The Blaze 11/29), the video taken by an Arizona tourist, Jennifer Foster, has been viewed over 1.6 million times. Just as significant, NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo’s random act of kindness towards a man down on his luck has been “liked” and “shared” on social media at a disproportionately high rate.

As an iconic image, it is timeless. As a social phenomenon taking place during the holiday season, it is timely.

I suppose what caught my attention about this story, which I first noticed on the nightly national news, was the media’s tone of astonishment at Officer DePrimo’s act.

I’ll admit it- I was disappointed at the reactions of tens of thousands of people, many of whom seemed amazed that a cop was capable of such compassion. Hit him with a nightstick, maybe, but buy him a pair of shoes? Naw.

Yet that cynical take is less important than the lasting impression this image conveys. Honestly,, Officer DePrimo’s actions were exceptionally kind. The poignant moment would have escaped our attention if Foster had not decided to videotape the incident. Perhaps no one would have believed it happened.

In fact, believe it or not, police officers perform random acts of kindness every day.

In abandoned lots where homeless people live under tarps, in hidden alcoves where drug addicts struggle through withdrawal, in flea-ridden homes where abused kids go to bed hungry, police officers have done incredible, selfless things. I know, because countless times I have witnessed cops, many on tight budgets with their own kids at home, open up their wallets and pay for food, shelter, toys and more.

In this new era, where public money and charitable organizations struggle to provide for the neediest among us, those at risk must have compassionate, caring police officers. No other profession outside of law enforcement has such a direct connection to the truly unfortunate, impoverished people who drift through the world of the streets. As a result, police officers are in the best position to make a positive impact in their lives and in our community.

Many officers use this interaction as opportunities to reach out individually, or to volunteer their free time to good causes, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens or the Tacoma Police Guild’s wonderful Shop With a Cop program (I’ve included the link if you’re inclined to donate).

“To serve and protect” is not just some trite phrase, nor meaningless cliche. It is the reason most cops take up the profession of law enforcement.

And showing compassion is part of the job.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. Most police officers impress me as nice people.
    It would be nice if they could share that general attitude.
    Perhaps mass psychology is better done out of the car
    and face to face. I hate cars anyway.

  2. nwcolorist2 says:

    Brian, my impression of the police has long been on the negative side. I realize their work puts them under a great deal of pressure, but there are so many stories that circulate about what appears to be excessive force. We used to call it ‘police brutality’. Here’s my story:

    10pm Saturday on a warm August night. I’m asleep. My wife answers a knock on the door. A friend of our son is there. We have to get over to his apartment immediately! A feeling a great urgency.

    We drive over with great foreboding. A crowd of about 50 people are assembled in the parking lot, also 3 police cars with lights flashing. Someone motions us over to a group of officers.

    The facts are quickly and gently laid out by the detective in charge. A party with drugs. A game of Russian roulette. Our son is dead. Shot through the head with his own gun. Another officer, nodding towards me, then makes the comment, “Doesn’t he remind you of…(some name)”.

    I’m feeling like I’m drowning. The detectives is speaking, but his voice is muffled. Grasping at hope I finally ask, “Are you sure he’s dead?” The junior officer says, The way he looks, you wouldn’t want him alive.” His comments hit me in slow motion. Can he be talking to me? How can someone be saying these things at this time. I am too numb to respond.

    Looking back on this, the detective in charge was very compassionate and caring. I don’t remember his name. It may have been a German name. He was close to retirement at the time . But the words of his partner went far beyond acceptability. Made at such a traumatic moment, they went down very deep and have stayed with me.

    I know this is just one anecdote, but there are many of these types of insensitive stories out there. Maybe your story will start the tide to turn.

    I’m sorry to have to detail all this here. But some things need to be expressed. The holidays are a particularly tough time for those of us who have lost loved ones.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    nwcolorist- Thank you very much for sharing your wrenching story. I am very sorry for your loss, and I would like to extend an apology on behalf of the vast majority of police officers who have no use for the type of behavior you experienced. That mindset, I can assure you, is very atypical and usually a sign of immaturity or insecurity on the part of cops who model themselves after Dirty Harry no matter the situation.

    My belief is that most police officers are compassionate people. Why else go into a career field where your job is to help people, after all? There are a lot of stories about bad behavior, but with about half a million police officers in this country – not to mention the media’s tendency to focus on the negative – that confirms my opinion.

    Thanks again for your comment, and I hope you have a peaceful holiday season.

  4. nwcolorist2 says:

    Thanks for your kind response, Brian.

    And Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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