By now you’ve probably heard about the tragic shooting of Rigoberto
Alpizar, the passenger with bi-polar disorder who was shot and killed
by air marshals in the Miami airport last week.  Those who work as
advocates for the mentally ill know this is unfortunately not an
uncommon scenario…


Of course their superiors stated that the two federal marshals did exactly what they were trained to do.  I dispute this assertion:  If Mr. Alpizar had told everyone he had a bomb why was he allowed to leave the plane without some intervention?  Why was he not confronted before or during the flight?
 
Once he left the plane his wife repeatedly cried out that he was mentally ill.  Many passengers stated they had heard her and those who sat near the couple also testified that Mr. Alpizar was agitated throughout the flight.   Again the flight crew allegedly knew this so why didn’t they ask the marshals to intervene for his safety and that of his fellow passengers?
 
This whole incident points to an even more serious lapse of training.  There have been many documented cases of mentally ill passengers causing a disruption on commercial flights.  In our local airport a homeless man walked onto a plane without a ticket by passing through the highly vaunted security screening.  There have been incidents of passengers striking and choking flight attendants and there was one especially appalling incident where a drunken passenger defecated on a drink cart during commercial flights.
 
Over the years many sheriffs and police chiefs have recognized that their officers confront the mentally ill on an almost daily basis and often with tragic consequences.  This is why many have adopted CIT, or Crises Intervention Training, which is based on a program developed by the police department in Memphis Tennessee.
 
This excellent program teaches officers how to recognize and deal with the mentally ill.  It makes them more aware of and less fearful of the bizarre, frightening and sometimes incomprehensible behavior exhibited by people with a mental illness in crisis.  Those departments which have sent their officers to CIT training note a drop in physical confrontations and especially those with lethal consequences.
 
One of the two marshals was reported to have come from the Border Patrol while the other came from Customs.  I don’t know if these agencies make this training available to their staff but given their current positions there is no excuse for the air marshals not to have been provided this training.
 
They may have done the job they were trained for, but those responsible for their training miserably failed Mr. Rigoberto Alpizar and his family.  This man did not choose to be mentally ill and there were many non-lethal countermeasures which could have been taken.
 
Confronting air marshals should not be an automatic death penalty for the mentally ill.  It’s time to bring CIT training to the Federal Air Marshal Service and it would be a good idea to see that airline personnel receive such training as well.