Oct. 21--When actor Erik Estrada was a television peace officer in the 1970s, he rode a motorcycle on California's freeways.
Now, his kind of cop surfs the web. For real.
"It's a never-ending problem," said Estrada, who gained TV recognition as Frank "Ponch" Poncharello in "ChiPs" (1977-83) and now is an actual deputy sheriff in Bedford County, Va. "Child pornography. Child abduction. Predators. It's not gonna go away anytime soon. It's here to stay. The next best thing is education and prevention."
That's the main motivation for "Finding Faith," a 110-minute movie in which Estrada, 64, portrays The Sheriff, who investigates the abduction of a 14-year-old girl (Faith Garrett) by a "skillful" online predator. The crime sunders her role-model family's small town and challenges its residents' faith.
The film is being shown -- free -- tonight at Bear Creek Community Church in Lodi. Estrada will be there to discuss Internet crimes against children and teenagers and answer questions.
The Safe Surfin' Foundation, the Bedford, Va., organization for which Estrada is an advocate and spokesman, produced the movie. It demonstrates preventive and investigative work being done by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (icactraining.org).
"Based on actual events," according to the producers -- it's a composite of three girls' Internet-emboldened abductions -- "Finding Faith" is what Estrada called "faith-based. It's a real drama with a certain amount of Christianity."
"The law-enforcement presence continues to rise," said Dean Haskins, 54, a music composer and executive producer of JC Films, which is based in Deer Run Forest, Va., and is organizing the movie's National Awareness Tour. "But the predators continue to remain two or three steps ahead of the law."
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, "more than 2 million reports of child sexual exploitation have been made to the CyberTipline since 1998."
Haskins said the film is being "four-walled" -- shown in non-industry venues -- "at least for the first several months. So we control the message. So Erik had the opportunity to show it to families and teens all over the country."
Estrada, a native of East Harlem, Manhattan, N.Y., has appeared in 52 films since 1970 as well as 82 TV shows and movies since 1973, starting with "Hawaii Five-O" and "Kojak."
Larry Wilcox played Jonathan "Jon" Baker, Estrada's "square" California Highway Patrol partner in "ChiPs," a one-hour weekly NBC series often spoofed for its routinely massive freeway pileups. He wrote an autobiography ("Erik Estrada: My Road From Harlem to Hollywood") in 1997.
"I always wanted to be a cop," Estrada said recently, while traveling down the freeway to Los Angeles. "I finally became a cop. I finally decided to just make a movie and try to educate our kids. We made a movie based on fact."
Mike Brown, his boss as sheriff of Bedford County, Va., also appears in "Finding Faith."
"All kids should be taken care of," Estrada said. "Whether they're yours or not. It's part of law enforcement that needs to be attended to as much as possible. That's why I do it. It's the purpose."
Estrada will amplify it in January by releasing "Uncommon," a film that'll be shown first at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and then 80 other places of worship nationwide.
"It's about teenagers' Constitutional First Amendment rights to express their religious beliefs," Estrada said. "Ever since we've taken prayer out of the schools, we've gotten bullets instead."
Estrada's acting career began in 1970 in "The Cross and the Switchblade."
"I happened to be in the very first faith-based movie in the United States," he said. "I was the 'Switchblade.' I believe in God."
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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