It gave the public faith that the sometimes distrusted law enforcement agencies were not only protecting the community, but also serving it.
The saccharine story of Jeffrey Hillman came crashing down on Wednesday, however.
According to an investigation by the New York Daily News, Hillman isn't actually homeless. Through a combination of government benefits, he has an apartment in the Bronx that he chooses not to live in.
To city agencies, this isn't surprising. Hillman, they say, has a long history of turning down services.
“Outreach teams from the Department of Homeless Services continue to attempt to work with him, but he has a history of turning down services,” Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the city agency, told the News.
In the past, Hillman has lived in city-operated transitional housing sites called "Safe Havens." His current apartment was paid for using section 8 rent vouchers, social security disability, and veterans benefits.
Hillman's military benefits grant him rental assistance and various drug, alcohol, and mental health programs. The News also discovered that Hillman has a loving family in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
In high school, Hillman was popular and a star basketball player. The central New Jersey man was remembered fondly by his classmates.
“He had the best dribble of any player on the team — he could dribble around anybody,” Rev. John Graf told the News.