A police officer called to a grocery store after a theft ended up buying nappies for the mum who had been caught trying to steal them.

The incident happened in Maryland, in the US, and the officer has received praise for his empathy.

"Though we often joke that our field trainees are still in diapers, it turns out that rookie officer Johns was not buying these for himself," the Laurel Police Department wrote on Facebook, accompanying a photo of the policeman at the supermarket checkout.

"Why do cops get to go shopping on duty?" is but one of the many questions we get asked throughout the shift. Though we...

Posted by Laurel Police Department on Saturday, 22 July 2017

"Officers responded for a shoplifting call at a grocery store and learned that a young mother, with her infant son, was caught by security attempting to steal two packs of diapers. After she purchased some groceries she did not have enough money leftover to buy the diapers," the post further explained.

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"Officer Johns considered the situation and then made the decision to purchase the diapers out of his own pocket so that the young child would not suffer. It's worth noting that the female was still issued a criminal citation for the theft.

"Though it's but a snapshot of some of the work your officers are doing daily, we still wanted to take a moment to thank officer Johns for not just fairly enforcing the law, but also showing empathy to an innocent child put in a difficult situation."

The Facebook post has since gone viral with hundreds of people leaving comments both supporting and criticising the police.

"So hit her with a fine and court cost, but you bought her diapers, totally fixed all her problems. Thanks so much," one Facebook user posted.

"If the store wants to press charges ... he HAS to give a citation. He has no choice in the matter. Know the law before you run your mouth. No good deed goes unpunished on FB," someone else explained.

The police department also received a number of offers of donations for the struggling mother.