Acting Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, who was vying to be named to the job permanently, is taking medical leave and will be out "indefinitely," leaving the incoming chief without two of the agency's highest-ranking officers.
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."
"It was rough when I first got promoted," he said. "I took a lot of shots from people saying, 'He doesn't have 20 years on the job. He's too young.' But I just ignore the naysayers and stay focused."
He became an officer after dropping out of Coppin State University. Years earlier, a picture of a young Barksdale had been featured in The Baltimore Sun, after one of his close friends, Lamont Rivers, was gunned down in North Baltimore.
Barksdale told The Sun in 2002 that he was "deeply shaken" by the death. "Lamont was someone I knew and liked — he said he wanted to be a Marine — and he was gone," Barksdale said in that interview. "It hit me that day that [violence] can happen to nice people, to a good guy."
His command-level experience has come almost entirely in the agency's specialized drug and gun units, and under former Commissioner Edward T. Norris, he led an 82-member firearms team.
In naming Batts as commissioner, Rawlings-Blake praised Barksdale's work, saying he has "done a great job and is a valued member of the Police Department command staff. I'm truly grateful for his service to Baltimore."
Young said earlier this month that he had contacted Barksdale and asked him to stay.
"Barksdale was sort of like the architect of the whole crime-fighting initiative for Commissioner Bealefeld," he said, adding that Batts needs an opportunity to learn from Barksdale and Deputy Commissioner John Skinner. "Those guys are top cops, and they get it."
The City Council has not yet held a confirmation hearing for Batts.
Young said he will give Rawlings-Blake "the courtesy of supporting her appointee," but that he still has "concerns as to the learning curve" Batts faces coming into a new city. The rest of the department will have to step up to support him in the absence of Barksdale and Oden, he said.
"I'm hoping that the majors and the lieutenants and sergeants, really that everybody, reaches out to him," Young said. "The mayor said Batts is the best, so he should be able to recover and do what he needs to do to continually reduce crime in Baltimore."