Mohammed seeks to use the skills she gains in the MPP to complement her professional and legislative knowledge to create more equitable policing policy.
Headshot of Heena Mohammed
Heena Mohammed

Growing up a second generation Indian-Muslim immigrant in the small city of Preston, England, racial disparities were apparent to Heena Mohammed from an early age. “I would see young men, especially young men of color, disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and viewed with suspicion at airports, on university campuses, and largely in the media,” said Mohammed. She said that while she herself was the target of racist abuse and taunts as a high schooler, “I recognized I had some privilege that allowed me to navigate through life largely unaffected by systemic challenges.”

Mohammed has thus made it her mission to take unique advantage of her position as Deputy Head of the Police Powers Unit at the UK Home Office in London, where she is responsible for making sure the police have the powers they need and that they are using them in a manner that is fair. “I want to use policy in the service of advocating for marginalized communities that aren’t as fortunate.”

After graduating from the University of Manchester with a Bachelor’s in Politics and International Relations, Mohammed worked in numerous roles across various state departments, but it was not until this past year with the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that she came to realize the type of work that truly calls her.

“Last year felt unique in the sense that it resulted in a sudden and obvious culmination of several social issues with respect to racial inequalities on a mass scale. And after a bit of soul searching during that year, I realized I could work on racial equality in the criminal justice system for the rest of my life.”

Mohammed has served in her current role as Deputy Head of the Police Powers Unit since July 2020 and noted it was difficult to assume this role in the midst of sweeping protests across the country. “When a colleague asked me last year why I decided to take the job—especially given policing in the UK has some real challenges with regards to racial disparities —I said I had recognized microaggressions early on in my career and the impact they have on marginalized communities. Back then, I didn’t feel like I was in a position to do anything. In this role, I am in a position of both power and privilege—I can make a real contribution toward making racial equity central to policy making.”

Mohammed decided a key to add value to her position was to pursue the Master of Public Policy at Harris. “It will be a great chance to slow down, reset, and look at race through a different lens to broaden my perspective on crime policy,” she said. “There is something really exciting about looking at crime policy from a more creative perspective like some places in the U.S. are doing. I’m coming to Harris thinking, ‘I should be willing to have my mind changed.’”

In addition to involving herself in the work of some grassroots organizations in South Side Chicago that focus on crime policy, Mohammed is excited for the opportunity to learn from Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor Jens Ludwig—and potentially contribute to research at the Crime Lab. As a Fulbright scholar, she is particularly interested in the relative approaches of the U.S. and the UK in domestic policing policy.

Heena comfortably admitted, “Right now, numbers feel like a foreign language to me. However, you have to understand data to work in crime policy. Part of forcing myself to work with numbers is so I can analyze them, understand them, and then apply my legislative knowledge to create more equitable policy. The Harris analytical toolkit is exactly what I need.”