Sheriff Shaq Works to Stop Internet Pedophiles

ByABC News via via logo

Aug. 10, 2005 — -- On the court, Shaquille O'Neal is virtually unstoppable. Off the court, O'Neal is just as relentless, but now he's taking on a very different kind of adversary -- online pedophiles.

"We want to get these predators off-line," O'Neal told "Good Morning America." "It's very disturbing to see that anyone would want to harm a child especially in a sexual manner, very, very disturbing."

O'Neal is the national spokesman for a group called the Safe Surfin' Foundation. But he's more than just a figurehead; he's also a cop -- a real one. O'Neal is a trained reserve officer with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office in Virginia, working on a task force aimed at busting Internet pedophiles.

At a secret location near Roanoke, "Good Morning America" recently found O'Neal working a case, exchanging e-mail messages with a suspected sexual predator.

"I don't like to give away my secrets, but I just say 'hi,'" O'Neal said. "They ask how old I am and they get right into it. ... Ninety-eight percent of it's sexual right away."

The idea, he said, is to keep the dialogue going until the suspect sets up a meeting.

"Once they want to meet in a certain location, we'll be there," Shaq said.

An estimated 77 million kids use the Internet. And according to the FBI, nearly all of them will eventually meet an adult sexual predator in a chat room.

O'Neal and the Safe Surfin' Foundation have some advice for kids faced with that situation.

"What I tell the children is just simple things," O'Neal said. "Don't give out personal information online. If you're having a conversation with someone and they start to get nasty, just sign off. Just be smart and have a lot of common sense."

The Bedford County Sheriff says O'Neal is the real deal.

"I've known a lot of police officers and in my 40 years in the business, and I think I'm pretty hard to fool," Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said. "There is absolutely nothing phony, fake about Shaquille O'Neal and his desire to help kids and to be a viable part of law enforcement."

O'Neal says he has long been interested in police work. In addition to his work in Virginia, he's also a reserve police officer in Miami Beach, Fla., and Los Angeles, and has undergone extensive police training.

O'Neal recently signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Miami Heat. But, at age 33, he is also contemplating his life after basketball -- a life wearing a badge instead of a jersey.

"Basketball has to end," he said. "Basketball doesn't last forever. Law enforcement lasts forever. It's something I want to do."

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