For Mountain View school resource officer Bobby Taylor, being hip is part of the job. Whether it's following which social media apps are current and which are passe, or consulting Urban Dictionary on new lingo, Taylor has spent the last six years with his finger on the pulse of student life at Mountain View high schools.
"Vine is out. Snapchat and Instagram are still around but Kik and Yik Yak are old school now," Taylor said in an interview last Friday morning. Later that day, Yik Yak announced it was shutting down.
Taylor is part of a team of officers that represent the face of the Mountain View Police Department in local schools, and his job is to act as the liaison between law enforcement and teens at Mountain View, St. Francis, Alta Vista and occasionally Los Altos high schools. Rather than take a hard-line approach and spend his time scanning for criminal behavior while swinging around a pair of handcuffs, Taylor said he has made it a priority to build a strong relationship with the students, play an active role in school events and make frequent appearances in the classroom.
His goal, he said, is to create a climate where students are willing to open up on tough issues like gang activity, drug abuse and mental health -- even with a cop.
"Now when students see a cop on campus, they know it's not a big deal," he said.
On Wednesday morning, the Mountain View-Los Altos Challenge Team recognized Taylor as this year's "Champion for Youth" for his work in local high schools, and said in a statement that Taylor -- better known as Bobby T -- has become an "ideal mentor and confidante" for students. The statement rings true each year when Taylor gets swamped with requests for letters of recommendation for jobs and scholarships from Mountain View teens.
Even when a student has a run-in with the law, Taylor said, his goal is to maintain a strong relationship and keep open lines of communication.
"During a citation and possible arrest, we're good with each other," he said. "And I tell them, 'The next time we see each other I expect a high-five in the hallway.'"
School resource officers in charge of overseeing middle- and high school-aged students have had their work cut out for them in recent years. The explosive growth of social media has pushed criminal activity from on-campus to online, and cultural and legal changes related to marijuana and other drug use have muddied the message from law enforcement that drug use is both illegal and unhealthy for young teens.
Last year, three teens attending Mountain View High School were arrested after they allegedly made threats on social media to harm students and staff. Two months later, it was revealed that students at the school were the subject of a months-long investigation into teens sharing nude photos of female students using the file-sharing service Dropbox.
In light of what the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District called "poor decisions using social media," the police department conducted a special event for parents and students late last year to learn about internet safety and what role parents ought to play in overseeing their child's social media usage.
"When I started, I didn't handle nearly as many cyber-related issues as we do now," Taylor said. "It's something that the schools are asking us to handle."
When it comes to drug education, it's all about working as a team, Taylor said. Officers are frequently invited to talk in the classroom about drug and alcohol abuse, with a goal of giving students a "practical application" of what they've already learned in the classroom. Teachers tell them about the research and the effects of chemicals like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on the brain, he said, and it's his job to detail personal stories and first-hand accounts of what dangers drug abuse poses to young adults.
Officers overseeing the city's high schools are also taking a more active role in dealing with mental health issues on campus, and are handling an increasing number of involuntary psychiatric holds commonly referred to as a "5150," where police confine someone suspected of being a danger to themselves or others. Although it's a worrying sign that teen stress and anxiety is on the rise on the Peninsula, Taylor said school districts are more "dialed in" than ever, and are committing more resources for counselors and therapists on campus.
Mountain View High School Principal Dave Grissom said the school is lucky to have Taylor as its school resource officer, and that he cares deeply about the teens on campus. He's frequently on campus during lunch and breaks, and knows students by their first names.
"He's great with kids, he's great with staff, he's just super approachable," Grissom said. "If you're around him, you're better off."
Whether it is drugs, mental health or gang-related, Taylor said it's essential to invest in building rapport with students in any way he can, including police-sponsored youth activities, camping and going on field trips to amusement parks. The department's Explorers program gives teens an opportunity to walk a mile in an officer's shoes by volunteering to help the department manage events like A la Cart & Art and other downtown festivals.
"When you have that relationship, kids are willing to talk to you," Taylor said. "They'll be willing to talk in the right frame of mind."
Police Sgt. Armando Espitia said Taylor has been a jack-of-all-trades in the department for years, working as a field training officer, a school resource officer and a driver's training instructor. He also serves on the department's Crisis Negotiation Team, which handles difficult and potentially dangerous stand-offs.
Taylor's relationship with youth in city acts as a deterrent for crime, Espitia said. Kids are less likely to commit a crime if they know it's going to disappoint someone.
"If a kid knows you and does something (illegal), they almost feel like they let you down because of that personal relationship," he said.