Joy Harris, Chief of the Hunts Point Department of Public Safety, was working as a toll collector at the New York State Bridge Authority when she was approached by a patron asking if she was interested in a security career. She took the leap and soon became a Correction Officer at a county prison, where she discovered her passion for the field. After six years, she became a Public Safety Officer at the Hunts Point Produce Market (Hunts Point), a facility responsible for the import and export of produce to New York City and the tristate area.
Her first role at Hunts Point included extensive patrols, loss prevention, visitor management, perimeter security and dispatch responsibilities. While working nights at the market facility, Harris also earned a degree in Criminal Justice, Corrections and Case Management from American InterContinental University.
It didn’t take long for Harris’ strong work ethic and motivation to propel her into higher roles at Hunts Point. She was soon promoted to Peace Officer and Field Training Officer, and then she continued to rise through the ranks, holding Sergeant, Lieutenant, Administrative Lieutenant and Captain titles before earning her current position.
Her impressive career accomplishments can be credited to Harris’ lead-by-example management style. When she reflects on her career, she says, “I was just doing what I normally do. When other people speak to me about it, I think, ‘Wow, you really did that.’”
One of her biggest inspirations on the job is her mentor, Charles Clark, Fire Safety Director and Operations Director at Hunts Point. “He recognizes your abilities and he tries to push you forward,” Harris says. “He tries to get you to advance and he recognizes everything that you do.”
When the Chief role opened at the Hunts Point Produce Market, the Market Manager asked Harris who she thought should take the position. She answered immediately — her mentor and supporter, Clark. When her manager said it wouldn’t be him, she was initially disappointed. Then, they told her that Clark had recommended her for the role. Based on her manager’s experiences with Harris’ work and Clark’s recommendation, she earned the Chief position.“I was shocked,” Harris says.
The public safety team at Hunts Point wasn’t surprised. Harris now applies her security mindset and work ethic to the Chief role. On top of her captain responsibilities, which Harris still handles, she also executes the responsibilities of the Chief position, conducting job interviews, leading capital projects, handling complaints, and setting the tone for the organizational culture at Hunts Point.
One of Harris’ top priorities when she started as Chief was to transform the culture of favoritism that had grown in her organization. “I experienced that personally all the way through my titles here — I experienced the brunt of unfair treatment and observed others being treated unfairly,” Harris says. “I think that experience was part of the reason I rose through the ranks as well. Because I made sure that I shared my knowledge with people. And they embraced my fairness and my consistency.”
Now, Harris’ efforts to lead a fair and equal workplace help support the safety mission of the Hunts Point Produce Market. Her focus on compliance and consistency has helped uphold the organization’s security practices. She is responsible for the safety of food distributed to an estimated 20 million people served by the market, and she works to protect the 110-acre facility with a combination of technology and a strong security team.
At the Hunts Point Produce Market, the public safety department prioritizes injury prevention, loss prevention and compliance to maintain security in the facility. “We receive deliveries from across the country and internationally,” Harris says. As produce comes into the facility via train, truck and plane delivery routes, the visitor management and access control systems at the market help promote safety in the busy produce exchange.
Harris and the public safety department use various technologies to increase the reach of the approximately 50-person team. “What’s top of our mind is technology, technology, technology,” Harris says. “You have to stay in time with the technology. We consistently update all of our processes, from issuing tickets to identity management.” Those updates have helped Harris and her team modernize security practices at Hunts Point while simplifying compliance and safety efforts.
Another challenge Harris works to solve is officer training. “We focus on training the officers to handle the wide range of issues that they may encounter working here. That’s really the main thing,” Harris says. She has had a hand in training since her days as a Field Training Officer, and Harris’ extensive experience at the organization has provided her with a deep understanding of how each member of the team contributes to the whole.
In addition to being a leader at Hunts Point, Harris leads beyond the walls of her own organization. “I have always been the person that everybody can come and speak to for fairness and guidance,” she says. “If they need to talk, if they have personal issues, if they need encouragement, we try to support and encourage our people.”
Some of her most cherished career successes come from supporting her team members both in and outside of Hunts Point. Her training strategy hones in on not only creating the best Hunts Point security officer, but helping her team members excel wherever they want to end up in their careers. Many of her former officers have gone on to become leaders in law enforcement and security. “That makes me feel good,” Harris says. “I know that the next place they go, they’re going to take these lessons and support with them.”
When it comes to security leadership, Harris says that being authentic has served her in her career. “I learned a long time ago to always be yourself in what you do. That’s how you will be the best that you are in your career.”