They were called when the 16-year-old was seen shoplifting at a Marks and Spencer petrol station shop in Harrogate.
But when officers turned up, they realised the minor was an illegal immigrant who had nowhere to live and nothing to eat.
The kind-hearted cops ensured the teenager had a meal, a shower and a good night's sleep - and the garage manager decided not to press charges against him.
They have referred the boy to social services and immigration officials.
The incident was posted on Sergeant Paul Cording's Twitter account - and many of his followers even offered to pay for the stolen items.
"First job of the night a theft from M&S garage in Harrogate - turns out the 16-year-old male 'suspect' has actually entered the country illegally and is cold, tired and hungry. Now in custody but fed, watered and warm. Sometimes you have to put being a human first.
"Pleased to report the manager at the garage does not wish to pursue any complaint of theft and a handover has been prepared for immigration and social services. I can’t begin to imagine what this young man has been through in his short life.
"The young man has been fed, watered, had a shower and is fast asleep. Catching up on the things I doubt he has had much of over the last few days. Makes me realise how sometimes we take the basic things in life for granted."