A casualty from the war on cops: A young officer’s decision to step away and his journey after 1 year of exiting. The following article has been written by Rob Hollingsworth. It includes editorial content which is the opinion and story of the writer.
From a young age I had one goal, become a police officer and make the SWAT team. After leaving the military I did so in 2016. I thought I had it made and for a few years, the job was what I thought it was.
I worked in the Las Vegas valley and had the unfortunate opportunity to experience the Route 91 shooting in 2017. This was 3 days before my 1st child was born. At this time this was another traumatic event tucked into some compartment inside of my mind and soul.
Fast forward to 2020 with even more events tucked away, I am an officer in Washington State. Just an hour south of Seattle. Still chasing my dream of making SWAT, only this time in my home state.
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I knew policing would be different from Nevada to the Northwest. It was something that I could deal with. “Do your job properly and within the laws and you’ll be just fine”.
I believed that I still believe that. While this article isn’t meant to be political, I will only say that I am not sure if that is the case anymore.
2020 in this part of the country took something from me. There were days I felt the entire country hated me and everything I stood for, law and order, professionalism, family. I am certain that many, if not all officers felt this. It was so difficult to leave the stress at work. I always tried to leave it at work, but this got the better of me.
2021- more trauma tucked away into my core. Was the job eating me and my soul? I still loved the job, but for the first time in 9 years of public service, I began to question my decisions. Then 3 members of my department, all military veterans and excellent officers, are charged with murder, arrested, and booked into jail. The result of a political witchunt that dragged along for well over a year.
Now laws in the state are making my job even more dangerous. The handcuffing of police officers coupled with the exponentially higher attacks on law enforcement.
I made the team and earned a master’s degree. I still want to continue in the profession I so love. My intention was to do another 20 years and get promoted up the ranks. To do far better than the politicians that were running my department.
But now I found myself in a dilemmna of weighing pros and cons. Having a young family, I knew the answer was to put my family first. I could not continue down this path of becoming resentful towards politicians, leadership, and the job while taking it out on them. What would be my trajectory if I stayed?
How did we get to the point that a job so noble was not conducive to a good family life? I worked hard for 15 years to position myself to get hired as an officer. Giving that up was a heavy burden to weigh.
2022- I separate from law enforcement. Knowing I had so many different skill sets and abilities that I could capitalize on. I was not stuck in this profession. A notion that so many officers and military members get sucked into.
I formulate an exit strategy and leave the profession and the state in search of a place to raise my family. We find it in the south and I jump fully into entrepreneurship. I begin to carry out the plan that I had implemented.
However, towards the middle part of the year, I find myself becoming more irritable, restless, and overall, not at ease.
This continues and then becomes bigger and bigger. Past events that I had purged from my mind, or so I thought, begin to re-surface. Doors from those compartmentalized traumatic events begin to open slowly, and uncontrollably.
I try and try to just fight through it as we so often do in law enforcement. July of 2022, a friend takes his own life. This is where I begin to question why? I was not suicidal, nor did I have any thoughts of. But I asked myself, “Is this how he felt a few years ago? Is that my trajectory?” While I wasn’t thinking of it now, in 5 years, if left unaddressed is that what I was going to head towards?
Now I struggle with a lack of purpose and identity. 10 years of public service, wearing the uniform, and serving alongside my brothers and sisters was a dream come true. Remove yourself from those communities and with the exception of a few close friends, you are ostracized. Some whom you called a friend, stop calling, and may even speak behind your back. Casting you as a coward or leaving them behind for making a decision that best suits you and your family.
Why does a thin blue line immediately do this? I don’t even blame the individuals, nor do I believe they realize they do it. In my opinion, this is the similar concept when you ask why officers don’t seek mental health treatments. Many of them ask themselves this very question as they ponder talking to someone. In many instances, they may be correct.
Compound these thoughts and this overall state of mind with the successes and many failures of business. Business is brutal even if it is successful. I was successful, but there were plenty of failures.
In law enforcement if we fail either of us, or someone else can be killed.
But I still resisted my own thoughts. It wasn’t until the fall that I reached out to a counselor specializing in trauma associated with first responders. Therapy is a process just like most things in life.
While being vocal about my journey, I was contacted by many people offering help or guidance. One was the co-founder of 22Zero. He was adamant that he could help. The process was seamless. After accepting the help, a representative reached out to me to assess my base levels. I am no psychologist, but the tests and process were in co-ordination with the DSM-5, the bible of mental health conditions.
Police, Firefighters, First Responders: This is Our Story. And we’re writing it every single day.
I went through the treatment, virtually somehow, and did not have to speak about any of the traumas I had experienced. After about an hour, my treatment was over. The effects were felt almost immediately. The sensation is tough to describe, but the word “lighter” comes to mind.
In concluding the session, my therapist told me something that was incredibly eye opening. They evaluate you on 3 areas: PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. My depression and anxiety were minimal and unremarkable.
However, my PTSD levels were 63 on an 80-point scale. Having little knowledge about the grading scale I was of course curious about what this meant. She then told me that anything over 70 was considered suicidal and anything over 33 was consistent with combat related PTSD.
I described how I felt earlier in this article, but when I heard these numbers and thought of myself as “Ok”, it immediately dawned on me just how scary this is. So many officers, and many reading this right now are operating in this zone. Please have a heart to heart with yourself and be real about your well-being.
Little by little over time we adjust to stressors and other stimulus in our lives. PTSD and other mental health issues are no different. As a young rookie cop any call is stressful but as time goes by, that threshold and your ability to adjust changes. What was stressful before is no longer stressful. Your body is adjusting to the stimulus. Your body and mind are adjusting to the stressors and trauma inflicted upon it, but is it healthy to move that threshold? When is the breaking point?
While my mental health journey will likely last forever, the benefits of these treatments have been felt immediately.
This article was therapeutic for me to write with my only hope being, that it resonates with at least one officer. Someone who is fearful or apprehensive of making the switch or speaking with someone. While terrifying, it can be done. Don’t let the job consume you, take your life back. You can take a hold of your life inside the profession or outside of it.
In the private world we fail and press on. I will always feel like an officer even though I have a new profound identity.
If you are staying in the profession, my hat is off to you. I encourage you to reach out about your mental health. I thank you for your continued service to our great country.
If you are transitioning out of the community, please have a well-planned approach so you can maximize the chances of your success and well-being.
Rob Hollingsworth is a veteran of the US Navy and Law Enforcement. His policing career was spent in the Las Vegas valley and Washington State. He holds multiple academic degrees in the field, to include a Masters degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He is a proponent for mental health in both the law enforcement and military communities due to his experience and struggles in both.
Rob is now moving to mentor transitioning officers and service members to ensure their transition is as successful as possible. He has created an online community called Plant Your Flag with the hopes that members don’t feel alone or without direction on their next chapters.