CHiPs Star Erik Estrada Is Now a Real-Life Cop

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Life imitates art: Recently, actor Erik Estrada—who played a motorcycle cop named Frank "Ponch" Poncharello on NBC’s hit TV series CHiPs became a reserve police officer in the small, 3500-person town of St. Anthony, Idaho, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The town’s mayor, Neils Thueson, officially swore 67-year-old Estrada into office at City Hall on Saturday, July 2. Estrada, who currently serves as a spokesperson for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation—an organization that teaches parents, teachers, and kids about internet safety—will work with the police to protect kids from online predators.

“Education is the best protection, especially on the internet," Estrada said. "Certainly don't ever go meet someone you've been chatting with. They're not who they are. If they send a picture, that isn't them."

Estrada will join the police department's new Internet Crimes Against Children task force, NBC affiliate KPVI-TV reports. The team is reportedly working on developing data resources for when a child first goes missing, including software that will record children's pictures at various angles and quickly provide police with medical information.

When Estrada first reached out to St. Anthony, police officials and townspeople thought it was a joke. But Estrada's plans were serious, and the police quickly welcomed the former actor into their reserves.

“We’re talking a long-term partnership," police chief Terry Harris told the Rexburg Standard Journal. "I expect it will run for the next two or three years. He’s a great guy. He’s going to be a great part of the team.”

Estrada says he chose to join a police force in a rural small town because it’s too difficult to navigate the bureaucracy of a big city. In St. Anthony, he says, they’re much more willing to partner with organizations like the Safe Surfin’ Foundation.

This isn’t the first time Estrada has joined a police force. In 2009, he used his Safe Surfin’ Foundation connections to become a full-time deputy sheriff in Bedford, Virginia. And in 2008, Estrada worked as a night reserve officer in Muncie, Indiana. In fact, the actor had wanted to be a police officer before trying his hand at acting.

"I wanted to be a cop first and then I became an actor and then became a cop on TV," Estrada said. "The TV thing allowed me to become a reserve officer in Indiana. I became a real cop. How many people have that kind of blessing? I've been blessed that way. I've been lucky."

[h/t Chicago Tribune]