'CHiPs' star Estrada coming to High Point to promote Internet safety
For actor Erik Estrada, life now imitates art.
A generation ago, Estrada played hunky California Highway Patrol officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the wildly popular “CHiPs” television series. Today, some three decades later, he’s a real law enforcement officer.
“I’m a real deputy sheriff now,” Estrada says. “I’ve been doing that for real for about 10 years.”
Specifically, Estrada is a fulltime deputy sheriff in Bedford County, Va., and his area of expertise is Internet safety, a cause he champions across the nation as a spokesman for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation.
Next week, Estrada will be in High Point for the screening of “Finding Faith,” a film that calls attention to the dangers the Internet poses to teenagers and children. The veteran actor plays a sheriff in the movie, which is based on a true story.
“It’s a real eye-opener for parents and young girls and boys,” he says during a telephone interview from Kingsport, Tenn., where he was screening the film earlier this week.
“Finding Faith” tells the story of a 13-year-old Virginia girl who was abducted by a child predator. She’d been chatting online with the predator, who had been pretending he was a teenage boy.
“Once he got information about where she lived, he stalked her and eventually took her,” Estrada says. “Fortunately, the real girl is alive today — she was able to get rescued before she was sent out to the sex trade.”
While the faith-based film is family-friendly, it sends a scary message about the dangers that lurk online — dangers that Estrada says many parents are clueless about.
“They’re not computer-savvy,” he says. “They don’t know when their kids are on the computer. They don’t know what they’re doing on there or who they’re talking to.”
There’s a message for children and teens, too, he says.
“Kids have a habit of spewing their personal information on the Internet, which they shouldn’t do,” Estrada says. “They should never give their real name, their parents’ names or where they live. They should never accept gifts from anybody. They should never go meet anybody they talk to online. And if they’re talked to inappropriately, they need to go tell an adult.”
Estrada is also campaigning for school systems across the country to provide Internet safety instruction to all students.
“There needs to be Internet safety in every school in the country, so children will know how to handle themselves when they’re approached by an online sex predator,” he says, “because they will be approached at some point. That’s almost definitely going to happen, and they need to know what to do.”
Estrada has been promoting Internet safety for several years. A number of years ago, he became a reserve police officer for a department in Indiana, but in 2009 he joined the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia to fight Internet crime.
“I’ve found it much more rewarding than working the regular beat,” he says.
Following the screening of “Finding Faith” Monday evening, Estrada will address the crowd and then sign autographs.
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Want to go?
Erik Estrada will screen his movie, “Finding Faith,” from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday at Community Bible Church, 4125 Johnson St.
The doors will open at 6 p.m.
Admission is free.
For more information about the film, visit www.findingfaithfilm.com.
For more information about the Safe Surfin’ Foundation, for which Estrada is the national spokesman, visit www.safesurfin.org.