Brian O'Hara moved one step closer to becoming the next Minneapolis police chief after he told City Council members on Wednesday that he would work to reduce violent crime, transform public safety and build trust in the community.

For nearly two hours Wednesday, O'Hara fielded questions from the City Council members who will decide next week whether he should lead the city's Police Department, which has been a focal point in a global movement re-examining policing after George Floyd's murder.

"I believe that things in life happen for a reason. I believe that all the experiences I have had have prepared me for this moment, and I believe that I am here on purpose," O'Hara said during a meeting of the Public Health and Safety Committee.

If the City Council signs off on his selection, O'Hara, a veteran law enforcement officer from New Jersey, will become the first outsider to lead the Minneapolis Police Department in 16 years. He will inherit an agency facing demands to reduce gun violence, eliminate racial disparities in policing and root out officer misconduct.

O'Hara, 43, joined the Newark Police Department in 2001 and steadily rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the city's public safety director and serving most recently as a deputy mayor. In his time there, supporters have credited him for collaborating with longtime department critics and working to implement the terms of a federal consent decree mandating changes to the agency. Many city officials expect Minneapolis will soon face similar court orders as a result of concurrent investigations by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and U.S. Department of Justice.

Wednesday's public hearing drew a small group of speakers, many of whom said they favored his nomination. Grace Waltz, vice president of public policy for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, called O'Hara "the right leader at a critical time for our city and our police force," noting in part his past experience carrying out a consent decree.

Others, such as local activist Al Flowers, said they were disappointed that Mayor Jacob Frey hadn't instead nominated Amelia Huffman, a longtime Minneapolis police officer who was tapped as interim chief after Medaria Arradondo retired earlier this year. "When you talk about somebody stepping up to take his place in this hot fire, that's what she did," Flowers said. "I still think she was disrespected by this city."

Multiple council members grilled O'Hara about his plans for his first 100 days in charge. O'Hara said he was open to looking at whether the city could implement a policy prohibiting employees from joining hate groups. He said he would aim to work with other law enforcement agencies and with community groups in hopes of curbing crime by working with "the very small percentage of folks who are driving gun violence."

In response to council members' questions, O'Hara said he was also willing to examine the departments' policies on discipline and rules regulating officers' off-duty employment. Multiple council members asked about his plans for rebuilding MPD's depleted ranks, noting that the agency has about 300 fewer officers than it did at the time of Floyd's death. O'Hara said he would both aim to support officers who have remained and prioritize recruitment of Minneapolis residents, possibly by partnering with high schools and colleges.

The hearing was part of a busy week for O'Hara, who is entering the final stages of the nomination process. On Monday evening, he held an informal meet and greet with several dozen people at the Capri Theater on the city's north side. He's slated to speak at Stewart Park in south Minneapolis on Thursday and has been meeting with MPD command staff as well.

The council's Public Health and Safety Committee voted 5-0 Wednesday to give preliminary approval to O'Hara's nomination. Council Member Robin Wonsley was present for much of the meeting but left before the vote.

O'Hara's nomination is expected to come up for a final vote Nov. 3.