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Why New Yorkers respect the NYPD as New York's finest

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NYPD Police Officer Larry DePrimo's act of kindness has by now been broadcast on numerous talk shows. The 25-year-old police officer saw a homeless man walking without shoes, shaking on a 35 degree night (November 14) here in Manhattan, and asked him where his shoes were.

The man said, "It's OK. I've never had a pair of shoes, but God bless you." DePrimo, deeply disturbed by the man's suffering and touched by the man's blessing of him, went into a nearby store and bought warm socks and insulated boots. DePrimo had to chase the man, who had begun to move on, and then the young police officer knelt to help the man put the socks and shoes on his feet.

Unbeknownst to DePrimo, a tourist from Arizona snapped a cell phone camera picture of DePrimo helping the man, and it was posted on the NYPD's website.

For his part, DePrimo insists what he did was not a big deal, and that in the life of an NYPD officer, "This [type of] thing happens every day."

That night DePrimo went home and told his parents, with whom he lives on Long Island, that people had been making fun of the man, according to New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, who did an excellent job in yesterday's paper chronicling this act of kindness. "'He woke us up and started talking about this homeless man he'd seen, and how much it bothered him that people were making fun of the man,'" DePrimo's mother, Angela, is quoted as saying.

What a world, in which some so-called "human" beings will ridicule the suffering of an innocent person. Unbelievable. And yet, here's this decent young guy, doing what needs to be done. What an inspiration.

Many media depictions of police show them as bullies, especially toward minorities. I don't doubt that sometimes the behavior of certain individual police officers, like that of anyone, can be abysmal. But my own experience with the NYPD as a reporter in New York City has been generally positive. In my 10+ years as a reporter here, I've dealt with a couple jerky cops, but have also noticed that some of the most giving, decent and remarkably brave individuals I've met in this city have been NYPD officers.

The NYPD's requirements are stringent: to qualify for the force, one needs some college and decent grades, or else to have served honorably in the military for at least two years. That ensures that people applying are of at least average intelligence and are not doing so for lack of other options, but because they want to serve.

Ultimately, human character is a mystery. Some have it, some don't, most of us fall somewhere along the continuum, and individuals like Larry DePrimo are to be prized. But it may be that, to the extent that it's hard to be a good person in a bad place, New York City and especially former Mayor Rudy Giuliani can be said to have laid groundwork helpful to bringing out the better angels in our natures.

When others, even including previous mayors, declared New York City ungovernable, he insisted on higher standards of excellence and accountability for police -- and on according them respect commensurate with their responsibilities and performance. In recognizing the police and acknowledging the public debt to them, he refused to allow facts to get twisted in a way that would have contributed to continued mayhem in the city.

Police officers and brass of smaller burghs take note: nowadays most New Yorkers show great respect to the NYPD. And not because they demand it with violence, bullying, or bossiness -- but because of officers like Larry DePrimo.