RUTLAND — December’s Project VISION monthly meeting marked the last for Joe Kraus, who has chaired the organization since its inception in 2013.
Mark Stockton, CEO and founder of Stockton Security, has succeeded Kraus in leading the coalition that includes Rutland’s largest organizations, such as the police department, hospital and city government.
Project VISION was born out of concern about the opioid crisis, which hit Rutland particularly hard in 2012. Residents came together, expressing outrage and sorrow, after a driver high on drugs hit and killed a 17-year-old girl. The organization has been credited with making a measurable difference in the city, and it has continued to expand, helping to reform neighborhoods and lower crime statistics.
After serving in the Air Force, Stockton moved to Rutland in 1982 from Pittsfield, Mass., and worked as a security officer before starting Stockton Security. He’s been an active member of Project VISION since its early days.
VTDigger talked with Stockton about his background and why he’s involved with Project VISION.
Q. You grew up in Massachusetts. How did you come to find yourself in Rutland?
In high school, in Pittsfield, Mass., we came up here for a field trip to go cross-country skiing. After high school, I stayed in Pittsfield, but I would pop up in the summer. And then we had the (military) draft. I didn’t want to go in the Army, so I enlisted in the Air Force. Then, I came back to Pittsfield, and I took the civil service exam, and I became a firefighter in Pittsfield.
Fast-forward, I just needed a change. So I said, ‘What about Rutland?’ I moved up here in ’82. I worked for a couple of big construction companies here. And I met my lovely wife. When we first met, she probably thought I was the biggest idiot on two feet, but here we are, 38 years later. We have three children, all grown.
I think it was just a lifestyle for me at the time. I found it to be a little more relaxed, going from a larger community. Something catches your eye, you’re not quite sure what it is. And look, it’s not a utopia, but at the same time, I think it’s a place where you can grow.
Q. Tell me about Stockton Security.
I like to walk around, to meet and greet people. During the summer, you go downtown on Center Street, and it’s blooming. There was another security company in town, and someone looked out the window and asked, ‘Who’s that?’ Somebody knew who I was, and they asked if I would be interested in becoming a security officer.
So I started working for this company for a while, and I did an exploratory to see what it would encompass to be a security agency. You have to show you’ve completed 3,000 hours of security and investigative work.
Step by step, little by little, we started the agency. We started our business with $1,000, that’s it. Here we are, 21 years this April, and Stockton Security is self-sufficient. We put everything back in. That’s why we keep the employees that we have. Half-dozen or more have gone on to the police department, and we had two that went on to U.S. Border Patrol.
One of our clients is the downtown plaza. We have government contracts; we have ski areas, like Okemo. We have private clients. We have a variety of different places around Rutland, and we’re licensed for the whole state of Vermont.
Q. How were you introduced to Project VISION?
We patrol in the plaza in downtown Rutland, seven days a week. The plaza is the heart of downtown. We brought a new, different way because our company, we were patrolling to the point where elderly people could walk in and not feel so nervous, just trying to clean it up to make it enjoyable for everybody. Lt. Kevin Geno, who retired from the police department — I think he saw that. He invited me to a meeting, and then one thing led to the other.
Now, Stockton Security and the Rutland Police Department, we have a very good collaboration, and a good working rapport. We’re like another set of eyeballs for them so they can take care of other things that are more important. We take care of exchanging minor paperwork, if there’s just a little fender bender. We handle parking, we handle trespassing.
So I came in, and I got to know what Project VISION was like. I sat in a lot of meetings and didn’t say one word.
Q. How would you describe Project VISION’s mission?
It’s getting all the government, community businesses, and people all together to make the community better as a whole. You have everybody in the same room. You take all the expertise of all the people around you. All these agencies are like an orchestra. They play the music. I’m just out there conducting. I’ll be saying, ‘OK, that sounds good,’ or ‘Why don’t you try a B-flat now, and see how that works?’
I’ve only been in this position two weeks, so I’m trying to get my feet wet. I’m changing a hat. Now I have to start to think, and I have to see, and I have to go out and look and talk. Do I have the answers? No. But the only way you’re going to find out is to go out in the community and see.
Q. After Tabitha Moore announced she’d leave Rutland County because of racial harassment, Project VISION decided to create a racial justice committee. What steps can VISION take to make Rutland a more welcoming place to live for people of color?
As a person of color, I’d say it’s a work in progress. Anywhere you go, you’re going to have some people who are being misled by the misled. But at the same time, I’ve seen so many changes from when our kids graduated from Rutland High School.
During the Black Lives Matter protest that they had this year, I saw every nationality there at the park, up and down the street. One of my supervisors and myself drove; I saw some officers kneeling with them. But you still have people who, I think, are afraid of the unknown.
I try to instill in some of my acquaintances out there: Don’t see me as a Black man. Just see me as a man. My kids have interracial backgrounds, and I will say that I am glad that we raised them and they went to school here in Rutland. They’re all college grads — one of my daughters works for Microsoft; another works for Homeland Security. My son is a physician’s assistant. All of them are married, and they’re doing well.
Nothing’s going to happen overnight. I don’t know all the answers yet; all I can say is that when I see new people in the community, I like to try and say ‘hello.’
Q. What plans do you have for the first few months as the organization’s leader?
Everybody is in their igloo, because of the pandemic. We have to wait until we get our shot, but I think that’s going to be a big thing, to get out and start seeing people.
I’m not going to come in with a bullhorn. My wife is a big “Rocky” fan, and she says, ‘one step, one punch, one round.’ That’s what I’m going to try to do: I’ll step back, and I’m going to listen, and I’m going to ask. If I don’t know something, to this day, I will ask. And I’m not going to pretend I’m someone that I’m not, and like I said, if I don’t know the answers, I’ll communicate. My life works around three things: My name (‘cause that’s all I’ve got), family and integrity. Take one away and I don’t work too well.
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