- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
He spent nearly six years patrolling California’s highways on his motorcycle, never once having to draw his gun to protect the innocent. Nowadays, officer Francis “Ponch” Poncherello works to protect innocent lives over the Internet.
Well, actor Erik Estrada, who played Ponch on the late-70s, early-80s television show “CHiPS,” does.
“The bad guy is a click away, and they want your child,” Estrada said Tuesday night at Fellowship Church at Southern Maryland Christian Academy in White Plains. An estimated 300 people who came to the church were shown the Safe Surfin’ Foundation movie, “Finding Faith,” featuring Estrada.
The movie details the real-life story of a young girl who was abducted by a man she met online. Estrada plays the Bedford County, Va., sheriff in the movie.
Estrada said he has been visiting churches to show the movie and talk about cybersafety since January, and that he wants to make sure as many children as possible see the movie.
“This is what goes on on the Internet,” he said.
Estrada was invited to speak at Fellowship Church by its pastor, the Rev. Marvin Harris, and the church’s staff evangelist, Frank Shelton.
In the movie, a young girl is talking with a man who she believes is a boy her age on her cellphone.
It turns out that the supposed boy she is sharing information with is an older man who later kidnaps her and holds her for several days before police rescue her.
Estrada said that sexual predators are on the Internet grooming children for weeks until they come and take them away, or the children go to them.
Education, he said, “is the best prevention.” Estrada said he is promoting Internet safety education for every school, and outside of school, he encourages parents to be aware what kids are doing online.
Estrada said he raises money to acquire software for cybersafety education to give to schools at no cost.
Veronica Bassford of Golden Beach said she enjoyed the film and was surprised to find out that it was based on real events.
Bassford and friend Elsie Dye of Gallant Green are longtime Estrada fans.
“He looks just as good as he did years ago,” Dye, 67, said.
“My heart is fluttering.” Bassford, 60, said as the two were in the front of the line for pictures with Estrada.
Dye said that Estrada’s message and the movie he presented were very informative.
During his visit, Estrada explained how he came to wear a badge other than his CHiPs badge.
Estrada has a badge from Bedford County, Va., where he is a full-time deputy sheriff.
He said he always has loved law enforcement. He said he dreamed of being a police officer as a kid and that his mother’s boyfriend was an officer.
When he was 18, he said, he met a pretty girl who was in drama club so he joined drama club. That’s when he said he was “bit with the acting bug.”
“Here I am, a kid that wanted to be a cop, then an actor, then I played a cop, now I am a cop who acts once in a while,” Estrada said.
Matthew Gaines, director of Southern Maryland Christian Academy, presented Estrada with a plaque from the academy and church recognizing him for his efforts in cybersafety.
Shelton presented Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) with a plaque recognizing him for his service to the community.
Prior to presenting Estrada with a plaque, Gaines explained how he and a friend loved Ponch growing up and pretended they were on the show while riding bikes through the neighborhood.
Gaines looked at Estrada and said, “You are all that and a bag of chips.”