Barksdale's leave comes after the announced retirement of a colonel who oversees criminal investigations and as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's pick for commissioner, former Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., chief Anthony W. Batts, arrives in Baltimore. Batts is scheduled to begin work Thursday, and some city officials expressed concern that he will be left without the experience of some of the department's longest-serving leaders.
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, informed of Barksdale's leave on Monday, called it "a real blow" that "absolutely raises concerns" for the department.
"I just hope we don't lose any other high-ranking officials, because then that would really hit the panic button," Young said.
Anthony Gugilelmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said Barksdale "has a medical ailment that will require him to be off for an indefinite period."
"Commissioner Batts was made aware of this, and the department supports [Barksdale] in whatever he needs," Guglielmi said. "We're looking forward to his full recovery and his return to the Police Department."
Barksdale could not be reached for comment. His medical leave follows the announced retirement of Col. Jesse Oden, who oversees criminal investigations and has been with the agency for more than 30 years.
With Oden gone and Barksdale out indefinitely, two of the four highest-ranking positions in the department will be open. Batts has also required all commanders to reapply for their jobs.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, whose Northeast District has seen a recent spate of crime, including the shooting of a scientist and the firebombing of two apartment buildings, said it is always a "huge loss" when people like Oden and Barksdale leave a department.
Scott said there is "no way you can replace the institutional knowledge" of people who were "integral to the success the city has had" in decreasing crime in recent years.
Still, both Oden and Barksdale "have been great at bringing people along and keeping them up to speed" on tactics and strategies in recent years, Scott said. Those younger officers will be able to step up and help Batts in his first months of the job.
"They're all ready, willing and able to take the reins, and having learned lessons from [Barksdale and Oden], I don't think that we'll miss a beat," Scott said.
The mayor's office did not immediately return a call for comment.
Robert F. Cherry, president of the city police union, which is supporting Batts, said the transition can be managed.
"Obviously, this is a major transition, and there's a lot on Commissioner Batts' plate," Cherry said. "But the rank and file, we're going to continue to get the job done. There's a lot of unknowns, but it's not like we haven't dealt with this before."
Barksdale, 40, doesn't have the requisite 20 years on the force to qualify for retirement — according to records, he began with the department in November 1993. If it's determined that he is eligible for medical, line-of-duty retirement, he can retire at 66 percent of his pay before reaching the 20-year mark.
Barksdale, who grew up in Baltimore, had publicly expressed a desire to become commissioner and ran the agency after Frederick H. Bealefeld III announced his retirement in May. He had the support of several City Council members.
Before that, Barksdale oversaw daily operations of the agency for five years, as the department publicly distanced itself from zero-tolerance policies and focused on guns over drugs, which coincided with steep drops in gun violence.
When he was appointed deputy commissioner, Barksdale was the youngest officer to reach that rank. He acknowledged his critics in a 2008 article in Baltimore Magazine, which named him one of the city's "top 40 under 40."