NYPD’s Heartwarming Photo Goes Viral

We recently reported on the NYPD’s social media unit and the department’s new-found skill in using Facebook and Twitter to track down criminals. Turns out New York City cops and their spokespeople also know how to use social media to generate some positive PR.

Here’s the story: On November 14, a tourist wandering through Times Square happened upon an officer tending to a barefoot homeless man. According to Officer Lawrence DePrimo, “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet”–so he decided to stop in a nearby store and buy the guy a new pair of boots. The tourist snapped this photo of DePrimo presenting the boots, shared it, and presto–it went viral, quickly accumulating 350,000 likes, 90,000 shares and 22,000 comments on the department’s Facebook page.

As the photo made its way around the Internet thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and others, thousands voiced support for the NYPD–even those who “have a grudge against law enforcement everywhere”. In a follow-up interview with The New York Times, DePrimo said he keeps the receipt in his pocket “to remind me that sometimes people have it worse”. Some commenters wondered whether the picture had been staged, but it still looks like a big PR win to us.

We understand why the NYPD would be very cautious when it comes to social media, but they’re clearly learning: A quick glance at the department’s photo stream reveals pics of the Macy’s parade as well as visits to senior centers and schools for autistic children alongside the usual gun seizures and awards ceremonies.

What do we think? Was this pic a fluke, or is the NYPD learning how to use social media to improve its image with the public?