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Miami Shooting of Man with Bipolar Disorder

Statement of Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director,  National Alliance on Mental Illness

December 8, 2005

NAMI's heart goes out to the family of Rigoberto Alpizar and to the marshals involved in the shooting, who we know must be profoundly affected by this tragedy. 

We recognize that air marshals have very difficult jobs and sometimes have to make split second, life and death decisions.

NAMI calls upon the Federal Air Marshal Service and all other law enforcement agencies to take a close look at its training and education protocols and, if currently lacking, adopt measures to prepare officers to respond effectively to people with severe mental illness.

Law enforcement officers frequently come into contact with people who may be acting erratically or irrationally due to severe mental illnesses or other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease.  Many communities throughout the United States, including Miami, have adopted Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs to better prepare officers to respond to these situations.   These programs work and save lives! 

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that: "The overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." Acts of violence are exceptional. When they do occur, it is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

It is important to examine all factors that may have contributed to the tragedy. Treatment of mental illnesses is effective. Unfortunately, news reports indicate that Mr. Alpizar may not have taken his medication, for whatever reason.

Bipolar disorder is a serious brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning.  It affects 2.3 million adult Americans, which is about 1.2 percent of the population, and can run in families.  Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months.  It can also lead to psychiatric episodes marked by delusions or hallucinations.

Learn more about CIT programs

Learn more about Bipolar Disorder

For more information contact NAMI’s Media Relations Associate, Alexis O’Brien at 703-312-7893.


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