Washington County was one of 36 jurisdictions throughout the state that were awarded grants under the Maryland HotSpot Communities Initiative, a program the state touts as a comprehensive effort to attack and prevent crime.
Nearly all of the jurisdictions also applied for money to hire a coordinator, but Washington County was one of only about a half-dozen areas that received funding for one, according to state officials.
Local leaders said that is due both to the scope of the county's plan - officials designated about a half-mile section in the center of the city - and the area's reputation for cooperation among agencies.
Police, social services agencies, community activists and others have been slowly phasing in the program over the last nine months. Now that Brooks has been selected, they predicted the program will move much more swiftly.
Police Chief Dale J. Jones, who also was on the interview panel that included agency directors and community representatives, said Brooks was picked on the basis of a scoring system used to evaluate her answers to oral questions.
"She was the highest," he said. "She demonstrated a comprehensive grasp of this community in terms of understanding the needs involved."
Brooks is known to many in Hagerstown through her years of volunteer work and service on boards and commissions.
She was the first black trustee of Hagerstown Junior College and the first female chair of the Hagerstown Housing Authority Board. She has served on the YMCA board, the Washington County Commission for Women and other groups.
Brooks also has volunteered at Pangborn Elementary School, Asbury United Methodist Church and for the United Way.
"That's what impressed me more than anything," Messmer said.
Brooks could not be reached for comment.
Messmer said Brooks' years of work in the community will help her get off to a fast start.
"She knows the players," he said.
Area residents cheered her hiring Wednesday. Carrie Mosby said Brooks immediately volunteered to organize a fund-raising effort when her husband was robbed and stabbed two years ago. Lenzlea Mosby, who runs a grocery store on North Jonathan Street, was laid up for weeks as his medical bills mounted.
"It helped out a lot. It really did," Carrie Mosby said. "I don't know what I would have done without her during that time."
Carrie Mosby said she and Brooks have worked together on a number of church projects.
"She's very talented," she said.
Pamela Parson, president of the Parkside Homes Residential Association on Sumans Avenue, said she has not had personal contact with Brooks but has a favorable impression.
"I've heard she is easy to work with. She does her job," she said. "You have a lot of people who are hard to get along with I don't see her as that kind of person."
Brooks' general mandate in her new job is to coordinate the various state and local agencies and community organizations in the hot spot effort. What that means specifically will largely be determined by her, Messmer said.
"This is a new position, not only for Hagerstown, but new for the state as well," he said. "It will create its own job description as we go along."
Jones said Brooks will work with the men and women who helped set up the hot spot to devise specific goals. State officials said last year they hope to see dramatic reductions of crime by the end of the three-year initiative.
The county received $221,000 in state and federal money for the first year of operation. The hot spot takes in a broad swath of the city that extends as far north as Prospect Avenue and as far south as Memorial Boulevard. It is bounded on the west and east by Prospect Street and Mulberry Street.
The area has 6,425 of the county's 120,000 residents but accounts for 23 percent of its violent crime.
Plans for the hot spot area include more police, intensified parole and probation enforcement, after-school programs and a community clean-up.